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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.


ONE Moment at a Time

December 21, 2011

by Jacqui C., Sexual Violence Center Volunteer

In the “Journey Through the Arts” support group hosted at our office in North Minneapolis, group members process their individual experiences through conversation and art. One victim/survivor’s idea of a healing activity might be to smash plates in order to make a new mosaic from the shattered pieces. Another victim/survivor might prefer to draw a timeline of their life before and after their assault, while still another’s favorite activity might be to visualize their experience using shapes and colors.

It’s hard to come up with activities that fit the needs of each individual in the group because something that one person finds empowering might feel tedious or overwhelming to someone else, and vice-versa. Healing from trauma is somewhat like a Rubik’s cube: like the colorful 3-D mechanical puzzle, a person’s healing process is multi-dimensional, can take on a virtually infinite number of variables, and, if you’re at all like me, can sometimes feel absolutely impossible to solve without support.

The reason this puzzle is so complex and unique to each individual boils down to one thing: the process of healing from trauma is nonlinear. I wish that I could tell our clients, all of whom have been affected by sexual violence in some way, that you only need to take steps 1, 2 and 3 in order to get from point A to point B and then the hurt and trauma will be gone. It’s just not that simple. Everyone is different, and so is their path after sexual assault or abuse. They might not have any idea where to begin, and that’s okay. They might take a few steps forward and then stall or backtrack, and that’s okay, too.

At SVC, we support survivors by giving them the options, information, and referrals they need to make informed decisions for themselves. We believe that the only person who knows what each individual truly needs is that individual him/her/hirself. We know that our role is just one piece of the puzzle, and we want the victim/survivor to feel in control of their healing process.

Taken from the last pages of Erica Staab’s new book, “The In-Between”:

if we pay attention,
if we listen to that little voice of wisdom,
if we trust

we will know when we need to do what,
when we need to move forward,
when to rest,
when to seek help,
AND — when to trust ourselves.

ONE breath at a time,
then ONE hour at a time,
then ONE day at a time,
ONE healing moment at a time.”

An advocate is available to talk to you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call our crisis line at 612-871-5111 for support and resources.

What Does Pornography Say About Our Society?

December 15, 2011

by Pamela Zeller, Executive Director, Sexual Violence Center

Pornography is the normalization of sexual harm. Think about that for a minute. Violence, humiliation, dominance, control and the objectification of a human being are normalized through the making and viewing of pornography. Unlike other movies and fantasies, where someone is shot yet not harmed, or drowned but still alive, or beaten yet remain unscathed…what happens in a pornographic image or movie is actually happening to that adult or child.

People may say that they are horrified by pornography and the harm it perpetrates, yet they financially support those who reap billions of dollars each year from this trade. Time Warner, the owner of HBO and Cinemax, among other outlets, shows “adult” films on their channels. Not only does this method increase access to pornography to more adults and minors, but it legitimizes “adult” films as just another viewing choice. All of this contributes to the normalization of sexual harm.

I say, boycott Time Warner and other producers of pornography, and send them an email or letter explaining that you will not support the normalization of sexual harm, that harms “the women and children used in the production of pornography; women and children who have pornography forced on them; women and children who are sexually assaulted by men who use pornography; and in living in a culture in which pornography reinforces and sexualizes women’s subordinate status.” (“You are what you eat: The pervasive porn industry and what it says about you and your desires” by Robert Jensen, Clamor magazine, September/October 2002, pp. 54-59)

There are a number of publications about pornography and other forms of sexual harm that are culturally-normalized. Click here for a list of resources.

The Measure of a Man

December 7, 2011

by Daniel P., Sexual Violence Center Volunteer

I read an article the other day about an Afghan woman who was sentenced to twelve years in prison after being raped by her cousin’s husband. You see, rape in Afghanistan is considered adultery. In other words, it is always a woman’s, never a man’s, fault that her vagina, or any of her orifices for that matter, are penetrated against her will.

So this article made me reflect on how rape is viewed in America; I concluded that American society, just like Afghan society, blames women for being sexually assaulted. The rhetoric at large is the following: women are not supposed to dress provocatively; women should never flirt with men, otherwise they will be labeled as “easy” or “loose”; and women should not be out by themselves during late hours of the night. I guess the only positive aspect about our society’s perception of rape victims is that America does not incarcerate women for being sexually assaulted.

So yeah, we live in a society that places the blame on the victim instead of the perpetrator. But why is this so? After all, men have a moral and ethical responsibility to keep their genitalia in their pants. Men also have a responsibility to respect and never harm others. Yet, when men perpetrate crimes like this, we single out the most vulnerable person.

As a male, it is my responsibility to challenge and change this paradigm. America is a patriarchal society where men are at the top of the hierarchy. Therefore, I must use my privilege and power as a male to make my voice be heard and say enough is enough. It is time for America’s perception of rape and rape victims to change. It is time for all of us to work together and make our society realize that women are not at fault for their victimization. However, it is imperative for males to step up to the plate and say no to institutionalized male rule and privilege.

Remember: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

The Sexual Violence Center serves people of all genders, and is always looking for volunteers and board members of all genders and backgrounds. Find out how you can get involved by visiting our website!

The Narrow and Limited Federal Definition of “Rape”

November 30, 2011

by Jude Foster, Hennepin County Systems Change Program Manager

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) definition of rape used by the FBI, is “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will”. This definition has not changed since its inception in 1927. This definition only recognizes female victims that have experienced vaginal penetration by a penis. It has been called archaic and even re-traumatizing for victims/survivors that feel their victimization outside of the UCR definition just doesn’t count.

Due to the narrow UCR definition, many sexual assaults are not included in the national crime report. In Minnesota, for example, the criminal sexual conduct code in our statutes does not use the term “rape” once. Instead, the statute defines criminal sexual conduct in five separate degrees, recognizing non-consensual sexual contact, as well as penetration, as illegal behavior. Penetration is not limited to a penis in Minnesota state law. The law accepts that penetration can occur with other parts of the body and/or objects. The statute is also gender-neutral, acknowledging people of all genders can be victims or perpetrators of sexual violence. With such a limited UCR definition of sexual violence, law enforcement agencies simply cannot report to the FBI many of the sexual assault cases that have been reported to them. This results in national crime statistics reflecting a fraction of sexual assaults that are reported to law enforcement.

The UCR is used to produce national crime statistics, giving a slanted view to the public about the prevalence of sexual violence in their communities. In some jurisdictions, sexual assault cases that do not meet the UCR definition are lumped in with ‘unfounded” cases, which can easily be misinterpreted as false reports. Although false sexual assault reports are low, this is a common misconception held by the public. The under-reporting caused by the UCR not only minimizes the issue of sexual violence, it limits access to the needed resources by law enforcement and rape crisis centers. It becomes difficult to justify funding for sexual assault investigations and advocacy groups, when only a small piece of the problem can be cited.

The United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs held hearings last year to re-examine the UCR definition. The Police Executive Research Forum held a Critical Issues summit this past September in Washington, D.C. where leadership in law enforcement and victim advocacy from all over the country convened to discuss the UCR definition. The FBI is currently working with a panel on writing a new definition for the UCR.

Click here for support in reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement.

A Look Forward From the Penn State Case

November 23, 2011

by Rachel T., Sexual Violence Center Volunteer

The recent attention on the Penn State sexual assault case has highlighted the effects sexual violence has on victims and the importance of bystander intervention to end this type of violence.

These sexual assault cases are a prime example of power-based personal violence. The victims, all of which were involved with The Second Mile, a non-profit focusing on the personal achievements and potential of youth to grow with positive self skills and self-esteem, were easily accessible to a person of power, Gerald Sandusky, who used this power inappropriately to sexually assault eight victims.

As many others might be thinking when reading about the Penn State case, I can’t help but wonder – how did this happen, not only to one, but eight boys? Somewhere along the way, something went wrong. It is clear that more people should have taken a role in this to end the violence.

I’m not placing the blame on any one person involved in this case, or saying who should have done more. In reality, everyone probably should have done more, but instead of focusing on the past and what could have been done, I think it is more important to look forward. I think these cases give us an opportunity to step back and think about where and how often power-based sexual violence occurs, and what we can do right now, as well as in the future, to prevent it either proactively or reactively.

A good first step to take a stand against violence is to take a look at ending sexual violence in our community and how to be helpful as a bystander. The Green Dot strategy is a strategy aimed at having more people get involved to end violence by being an active bystander (active can be pro- and reactive).

I think a lot of us have been told it is better to mind our own business, but when it comes to sexual violence in our community, we need to take a stand. Any role you can take to get involved will help to get one step closer to ending this type of violence.

A Perspective of Polygamy In the Hmong Culture

November 10, 2011

by Joua Yang

The Hmong hold on to their practice of polygamy regardless of the American law. Most first generation women turn a blind eye to their husband’s desire for another wife. It is the children, their sons and daughters who were born and raised in America, that now challenge this practice.

There is currently a debated issue of whether or not Hmong men should be able to marry a second wife. Hmong husbands legally divorce their first wife and head overseas to court their second wife. The Hmong culture holds two laws; the American law and the Hmong law. Divorcing your wife legally only means she no longer has rights to your property when you die. She is still obliged to stay until the husband divorces his wife through the Hmong law. If she chooses to leave, she will be labeled as an unjust woman and be unwelcome in the Hmong community. Literally, unwelcome to Hmong churches, shunned by Hmong stores, ignored by any Hmong authority and disowned from her family. We must also understand what life is like in Thailand and Laos, where many Hmong still reside. Many are desperate to come to America to free themselves from their lives of poverty. Girls have an advantage. They can court an American man in hopes of having a safe home to live in, getting an education and one day bringing their families to the Americas.

The truth behind this practice is that the girls who come to America are forced to stay in the homes to cook, clean and tend to children. They are obliged to their husband’s sexual desires for the rest of their life. Hmong culture does not teach a woman that she can refuse sex. Young women understand when they are wedded that they must please their husbands sexually. The women who come from Laos and Thailand as a second wife trade their right to their bodies in hopes of having a better life. They are what I would call “enslaved” to their husbands. They are obliged to live by their husband’s demands. Very few times, if ever, has a second wife been able to actually get an education or a job and use these resources to benefit herself or her family back home. It will be many years before their children learn that what happened to their mothers was illegal and unethical.

This is an illegal practice of polygamy, sex trafficking and human trafficking. This practice has never been challenged because there was no one to challenge it. For the first time, through their children, Hmong women are given rights and better yet, a voice.

The Sexual Violence Center serves victim/survivors ages 12 and up from any background or gender. Click here to find out more about our services.