An Open Letter to Victims of Sexual Abuse in Indian Country

By Bonnie Clairmont, Sarah Deer, Lenny Hayes and Lonna Stevens-Hunter, High Country News

February 28, 2022

Editor’s note: Out of respect for the vision of the author of this letter, High Country News will not name the referenced author. Those looking for background can read about the case here.

The last two weeks have been very difficult for many people in Indian country. When a celebrity is identified as a predator, there’s a terrible mix of emotions, including anger, sadness and a deep sense of betrayal. As victims’ advocates, we offer this letter as a message to all those struggling in silence. We offer loving prayers for all of you, and we want to provide validation and support to anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or violence. We pray for everyone who reads this letter, for your continued growth and that you can be the person you are meant to be.

We believe you.

You are strong.

What happened to you is not your fault.

If you reported the abuser, you did one of the hardest and bravest things you’ve ever done. By revealing what happened to you and describing how you were hurt and your confidence shattered, you inspire us all. You may – with good reason – believe that the world is a dangerous place. We honor you for not remaining silent.

We honor you for not remaining silent.

Tyane Arviso

As victims’ rights advocates, we know that reporting often leads to legal action. At the same time, too often the victim is blamed for reporting. There is often blame and shame towards the victim, either by people who don’t know you or, even worse, by people you love. They may not even believe you.

We also want to include those who have not yet revealed what happened to them. It may not be safe for you to talk about the abuse because your home may not be a safe place. This is especially true for children and young adults, who may be in danger when reporting. So, if you haven’t revealed what happened, know that there are sure advocates and adults ready to help you; At the bottom of this letter, we’ve included a list of hotlines staffed with people who are willing to talk and who will believe you. And please remember this, my dear: no matter what, we believe you; in two months, two years, 20 years, 2,000 years, we will still believe you.

This moment in your life will not define who you are now, nor will it define the person you can become in the future. It may be hard to believe right now, but as survivors ourselves, we know there is a healing journey when you get your power back. You can be whatever you want to be.

We know there is a healing journey when you get your power back.

What happened to you is not your fault. The world can be chaotic right now and for the months to come. Sometimes adults don’t want to know and don’t seem to understand what happened to you. They may even deny your truth. Even the person who hurt you can deny their own wrongdoing. But remember this: the abuser made a choice when he decided to harness his power. They took advantage of your vulnerability and counted on your silence. Even when it was the abuser’s choice to commit sexual abuse, too many victims are often scrutinized more closely than the abuser.

That’s wrong.

This cannot go on.

To heal, there must be justice.

We want our laws and tribal codes to hold perpetrators accountable, so that we don’t always have to rely on federal or state laws and their enforcers to deliver justice. But whatever happens, there must be consequences. Our tribal nations must stand with the victims. The responsibility to ensure that there is an appropriate response to these crimes should never rest with the victim.

We recognize that we do not yet live in a society that consistently reflects these values. There’s nothing wrong with being angry when our protective systems fail us when we need them most. The four of us are angry too, because we’ve been saying the same things for so many years. It happened to us too, or to someone we love very much. We are your aunts, grandparents, uncles, grandparents, but above all, we are spiritual warriors, just like you. And we want systems and communities to hold the abuser accountable.

You can heal with the help of other people who love and care about you.

Rest assured, your story has been heard. You have a bright future. So many of us love and believe you; there are advocates and survivors who are there to listen to you and answer your questions. We know how brave you are and how brave you always will be.

With the love of your victims’ rights advocates.

Bonnie Clairmont

Sarah Cerf

Lenny Hayes

Lonna StevensHunter

High Country News is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit media organization that covers the important issues and stories that define the Western United States.

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