Updated: Oct 15, 2018
Every 98 seconds someone in America is sexually assaulted. Every 8 minutes
that victim is a child. 9 out of 10 rape victims are womxn. 1 in 3 Indigenous womxn will be raped in their lifetime, and IW are twice as likely to be victims of rape than white womxn (RAINN.com).
Sexual violence also affects Black women at high rates. More than 20 percent of Black women are raped during their lifetimes—a higher share than among women overall.
1 in 2 transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime, and 50% of hate crimes in the LGBTQ community are against transgender womxn. Bisexual womxn experience “significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape and other sexual violence by an intimate partner when compared to heterosexual women" (OVC. gov).
Womxn of mixed ethnicity are the only demographic to come close to the rate of rape of womxn who identified as “Native American” only, at 24.4% (NONYC.org). Many womxn of all sexual orientation and backgrounds receive little if any recognition or help.
Being a mixed-race woman (of Saponi, Black, and Irish-Polish descent), I know this reality all too well. I, and others, are often looked at as exotic treasures to be subdued and won.
This rape culture is reinforced by racist terms like “sq**w,” degrading Halloween costumes like “Poccahottie,” “Sexy Indian Princess.” Even deeper, it is rooted in the pits of colonization. For Indigenous people of the “Americas,” it began with the desolation of Columbus (aka the Pervert that Stumbled into Turtle Island) and his crew.
““While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.”-Michele de Cuneo, colleague of Christopher Columbus.
The genocide and mass-raping of Columbus and his men reflected the value of womxn already set in Europe, and set the precedent of the status of Native womxn in the Americas. The former: objects of pleasure and servitude, and the latter, in addition to the aforementioned, savage harlots that were evil in nature. Columbus began the sex trafficking of Indigenous American + African womxn in the western hemisphere. Native womxn were as disposable as their children which the Spaniards dashed against stones.
Indigenous womxn once wore, and still wear, beads as shirts. The colonizers who came to Akunstuk (the High Plains of Virginia and North Carolina) encountered our Sappony ancestors and were shocked out of their Christian minds. Mihus wearing knee length cotton skirts and a mantle which covered the upper part of their chest, breasts fully or partially “exposed” but not sexualized by their male counterparts. In winter, they wore more to protect themselves from the ice and wind. But in summer, it took awhile for the church to force them to wear their stuffy, impractical Victorian clothes on hot, humid summer dayes.
We wore what the weather, season, and work called for. Our dress reflected our spiritual relationships, our personal expression, comfortability, style and flair. But with colonization came shame. The shame of our bodies as sexual objects, as an ends to a means, as property of men, as products to be approved or denied by the male gaze.
I mean, honestly, shouldn’t we be more focused on the causes and treatments for breast cancer, than a patriarchal love/hate relationship with nipples?
We once had the freedom of personal and sexual expression. Now we are shamed and blamed for the sickness of colonization. We are told that we must look a certain way to be safe.
I must admit, I am less harassed when I wear my traditional clothes. But that does not make me or others less susceptible to being sexually assaulted. Even when our ancestors, in response to the sick mindset of the colonizer, started dressing, like the European women of the time, in long skirts, long sleeve shirts: covered head to toe. They added layer upon layer, and even went as far as tying their skirts to their ankles. But still, the assaults continued.
The only gift the coverings gave was the false apology, “You may have acted up, or been asking for it just by being there, but at least it wasn’t for dressing like a whore.”
But this was and still is bullshit. I and many other womxn have walked down the street wearing men’s clothes and are still harassed. We may be shown more respect on the surface while wearing traditional clothes, but honey, those rapists have knives, and long arms and accomplices, that they still use to rip through our clothes, and rip off our skirts, and hold us down. Because RAPE IS NOT ABOUT SEX. RAPE IS ABOUT CONTROL. And we’re taking ours back. When they see us strutting our stuff + looking fine as hell, they attack because they are taught a false sense of toxic masculinity which makes them want to DEVOUR our POWER.
Womxn should represent themselves in accordance with what makes them most comfortable, loved, and what they feel honors their ancestors, while always keeping a critical mind to what may be traditional and what may be a colonized view masked under the guise of culture.
Breastfeeding recently became legal in all 50 states. It’s about damn time.
We won’t stop bringing awareness, educating, pushing policies, and fighting until we can breastfeed, be ourselves, and live in PEACE and in POWER.
Dominique (Afro Sappony/Norse-Irish/Polish descent) is a poet/spoken word/hiphop artist, short story writer, clothing line boss babe, + aspiring recreational therapist. She is also the co-founder of Indigenous Womxn In Solidarity Empowered + Rising. She is currently working on her B.S. in Nonprofit Leadership Management with an emphasis in American Indian Studies, and lives between the southeast + southwestern U.S.