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Sexual Violence: A Tool of Colonization

December 27, 2011

by Megan Close, Direct Services Coordinator, Sexual Violence Center

“Native peoples’ history of colonization has been marked on our bodies. In order to heal from personal abuse, such as sexual abuse, we must also heal from the historic abuse of every massacre, every broken treaty, that our people have suffered.”
– Andrea Smith, “Rape and the War against Native Women”

In 1492, Christopher Colon appeared on the shores of this land. Since that moment in history, Native Americans have experienced trauma in one form or another through the colonization of the Americas. Colon enslaved Indigenous peoples almost immediately, and colonizers were also quick to depict Native women as sexual beings. This can be seen in early paintings or drawings where the women were continuously portrayed as topless and immersed in the wilderness. Due to Europeans own cultural understanding of nudity, there were assumptions and judgments made that resulted in the objectification and demoralization of Native women. Colonization and war both assist with the objectification and demoralization by using rape as a weapon or tactic to carry out the task at hand. Devon Abbott Mihesuah characterizes these views in the book, Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism. She states, “Native women were seen as sexual begins free for the taking, and indeed, sexual violence against Native women was common after invasion” (59).

Coming into the present, we can still see examples of the colonizers view being sustained. We’ll take the example of prostitution. Today in Minnesota Native women are being trafficked and prostituted at an alarming rate. In the 2010 “Garden of Truth” study done by MIWSAC, the researchers interviewed over 100 Native women who had been trafficked or prostituted in Minnesota and found that “79% of the women had been sexually abused as children, 92% had been raped, 72% had suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of prostitution, and 62% saw a connection between prostitution and colonization, and explained that the devaluation of women in prostitution was identical to the colonizing devaluation of Native people”(5). Further one woman that was interviewed discusses how men would like to role play as the colonizer and the colonized, even going as far as to have her call him “John”.

Of course Native Americans are only one example of how sexual violence has been used as a tool of colonization. I encourage everyone to learn more about the Native community and/or your own community to gain an understanding of how sexual violence has been used historically.

The Sexual Violence Center believes that oppression is at the core of sexual violence. Stay current with SVC news and volunteer training connecting to our Facebook page and official website.

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