‘Historic’ domestic violence and sexual assault resource for Native Americans launches in Utah

By: Kyle Dunphey, Utah News Dispatch

Utah’s first domestic violence and sexual assault hotline tailored to Native Americans launched on Monday in what advocates call a “historic” step in expanding access to the state’s tribal communities, which experience violence at rates far higher than the national average.

By about 11 a.m., just a few hours after going live, the hotline had already received two calls, said Yolanda Francisco, executive director at Restoring Ancestral Winds, a nonprofit focused on ending violence in Native communities.

“This is something new for us. We don’t know how many people are going to be calling,” Francisco said. “And we’re ready to respond and excited about the fact that we are a resource.”

Native Americans are more likely to experience violence than any other racial or ethnic subgroup in the country, according to data from Restoring Ancestral Winds. Nearly 85% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, as well as 81% of men in those groups, will experience violence at some point in their life.

Rates of sexual assault and rape are about 3.5 times higher among Native Americans, while a study from the National Institute of Justice found that Native American women are more likely to need services related to domestic violence or sexual assault, but less likely to have access.

“Native American women and men suffer violence at alarmingly high rates, predominantly at the hands of non-natives,” said Francisco. “We can achieve the goal of ending violence only if we focus on engaging and working with tribal communities whose statistics paint a dismal picture.”

The hotline is free and confidential, and designed to help Native people living within Utah’s borders. It can be reached at 1-833-NTV-HEAL, or 1-833-688-4325.

It will be staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m — calls outside that timeframe will be redirected to StrongHearts Native Helpline, a national sexual assault and domestic violence resource for Native people.

Prior to Monday, the StrongHearts hotline was the only resource available for Native people in Utah.

Why the focus on a Native American-specific hotline? Francisco said having therapists who are “culturally competent” is an important step in victims getting help. Abuse and domestic violence often goes unreported among Native communities because survivors feel like law enforcement won’t believe them. The same goes for victim services — if a Navajo person falls victim to domestic violence, they are more likely to seek help if they know they can speak to another Navajo person.

“The Native perspective and that cultural responsiveness is really important. Being able to understand the communities that people come from and the historical trauma that has unfortunately caused intergenerational trauma, having that understanding is so important,” said Francisco.

Utah House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said improving the relationship between law enforcement and tribal communities is a key step in stopping the violence.

“There’s obviously a lack of trust and because of that lack of trust, people aren’t reporting. If they do report, they feel like they won’t be believed. That’s why this hotline is so critical and so important,” said Romero, who sits on the legislature’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Task Force.

That task force is set to expire this fall, and a bill Romero sponsored to extend the deadline never passed — she’s hopeful the legislature will pass a bill next legislative session so the task force will continue to meet.

Many of Romero’s bills deal with sexual assault and domestic violence. She said funding resources and groups like Restoring Ancestral Winds is the biggest lever lawmakers can pull to fight the epidemic of violence on tribal communities.

“We put so much funding into rehabilitating and helping people who are offenders, but I wish we could put that same amount of resources into the victims and communities and families, and do preventative work,” she said. “We definitely need to do more, but this is definitely a starting point.”

Resources for sexual violence victims

If you have experienced sexual violence, call Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Helpline at 1-801-736-4356. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free and confidential counseling. The following local resources are also available:

  • Native American domestic violence and sexual assault line: 1-833-688-4325
  • Native American Sex Assault Guide
  • Rape Recovery Center: 801-467-7282
  • Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1-888-421-1100
  • YWCA Survivor Services 24-hour crisis line: 1-801-537-8600
  • University of Utah Center For Student Wellness Victim-Survivor Advocacy: 1-801-581-7776
  • Linea de Apoyo de Violencia Sexual las 24-Horas de Utah: 1-801-924-0860

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