Photo courtesy StrongHearts Native Helpline

StrongHearts Native Helpline: Domestic and dating violence

Fact or Fiction?

There are a lot of commonly held beliefs about domestic violence that can harm victims and keep people from seeking help. StrongHearts Native Helpline unravels some of the myths surrounding domestic violence and sheds light into the darkness of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Domestic Violence is a private family matter — Fiction
When domestic violence becomes rampant in any community, it is no longer just a family matter. Using violence and coercion against an intimate partner is a violation of human rights and a serious global health issue (Guruge, 2012); and IPV is one of the most prevalent types of violence against women.

In Indian Country, a survey of intimate partners revealed that:

• More than 56% had experienced sexual violence
• More than 55% had experienced IPV

What’s worse, perpetrators are disproportionately interracial (a partner who was not American Indian or Alaska Native) as compared to intraracial (a partner who is American Indian or Alaska Native).

• 97% of female victims and 90% of male victims experienced violence at the hands of at least one interracial (non-Native perpetrator) in their lifetime.
• 35% of female victims and 33% of male victims have experienced intraracial (AIAN perpetrator) violence in their lifetime.

Domestic violence has a lasting effect on children — Fact
Children who witness and experience domestic violence may experience ongoing effects of trauma throughout their lives. In fact, studies have shown that babies of abused pregnant mothers can be born exhibiting symptoms of depression, irritability and difficulty expressing affection.

• The rates of pregnant mothers being abused are not short on numbers. In the U.S. alone 300,000 pregnant mothers report abuse annually.
• Children exposed to violence can suffer long term effects of trauma and are more likely to use violence against others.
• The rate of PTSD for Native American children is three times the national average.
• Exposure to trauma is a common thread to over-representation in juvenile justice systems.

Most of the time, domestic violence is not really that serious — Fiction
Domestic violence is an illegal act in the U.S. and is considered a crime with serious repercussions. Although there are aspects of domestic violence — for example: emotional, psychological, spiritual abuse — that may not be considered criminal in a legal sense, that does not diminish the serious and long-lasting effects of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. Each act of domestic violence must be taken seriously.

A victim can easily leave their abusive partner. Leaving is the safest option — Fiction
The most dangerous time for a victim is when they attempt to leave the relationship, or when the abuser discovers that they have made plans to leave. Fear, lack of safe options, and the inability to survive economically prevent many victims from leaving abusive relationships. Threats of harm, including death to the victim, children and pets, keep many battered people trapped in abusive situations. Other reasons a victim stays with an abusive partner include:

• Love: the victim has love for their abusive partner
• Family: wanting to maintain harmony within the family
• Community: escaping the abuse can mean leaving their tribal community, or concerns over what community members will think if they found out about the abuse
• Low Self-Esteem: makes excuses for abuser’s behavior, blames self for the abuse, or feels hopeless
• Denial/Shame: doesn’t want to admit or is embarrassed that they’re in an abusive relationship
• Lack of finances or resources: leaving an abusive partner may mean leaving behind financial resources and many basic human needs

Anger management programs are briefer, more cost-effective than a certified batterer intervention program — Fiction
Domestic violence is not an anger management problem. Additionally, anger management programs fall short of addressing the deeply-rooted issues associated with domestic and dating violence and, therefore, are ineffective. Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP) are specifically designed to meet the needs of batterers. Whether voluntarily or under court order, the BIPs are set up to educate and rehabilitate the abusive partner. The goal of BIPs is to change offender thinking and behavior with the result that offenders are held accountable, victim safety enhanced, and decrease the likelihood of further violence.

Domestic, dating and sexual violence helplines and programs are for women — Fiction
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. Like many programs, StrongHearts Native Helpline is for all Native American and Alaska Natives impacted by domestic, dating or sexual violence including males, two-spirit, nonbinary, etc.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives experience domestic violence at higher rates than any other ethnic group. StrongHearts Native Helpline acknowledges and supports all victims regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or relationship status.

If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, help is available. For one-on-one chat advocacy visit StrongHearts Native Helpline online at or call 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483), advocates are available daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. As a collaborative effort of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, after-hour callers can connect with The Hotline by choosing option one.

Join the Conversation