Sexual Assault Awareness event proclaims “All Life is Sacred”
May 5, 2017
Gila River Indian News
Gila River Indian Community members came out to support awareness about a serious crime that is committed every 98 seconds across the United States.
GRIC’s Crime Victim Services program hosted a sexual assault awareness event at the Boys & Girls Club – Komatke Branch on April 29.
The morning started off with a one andtwo-mile walk before convening inside the main gymnasium, where informational booths were set up and presentations took place.
District 6 Council Representative Anthony Villarreal provided an opening prayer followed by a few remarks about sexual assault.
He said sexual assault is a difficult situation that Community members face, and that support is needed to help victims cope with these types of situations before anything worse happens to them, like resorting to unhealthy behaviors that may lead them further into despair.
Villarreal said the sexual assault registry that was established many years ago by the Community is meant to deter sexual offenders from repeating their crimes on other individuals.
In times of crisis, Villarreal said, it is crucial victims gain support in helping bring their assaulter to justice and to not be afraid of reporting them to the authorities.
Lt. Gov. Monica Antone, who has spearheaded several initiatives to protect women, said Community members who stand up to sexual assault can experience a swirl of emotions that comes with being a victim of sexual assault.
She said that a recent traveling display called the Monument Quilt, which made a stop at Arizona State University, is a demonstration of the resiliency of women who have survived sexual assault and have gone on to advocate for the protection of women.
“It was really touching to see so many of the quilts that were made by victims of sexual assault…but what made it really touching was their ability to take a stand and keep surviving by contributing their piece to the display,” said Antone.
Antone touched upon the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides protections for the most underrepresented demographic groups: Native American women, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender victims of sexual assault.
According to Antone, legislation such as VAWA holds perpetrators accountable, regardless of whether they are non-Native when an act is committed on tribal land.
Through the Act, tribal courts have the power to hold sexual offenders accountable, which before 2013, was a gap in the judicial system before a provision made it possible to try non-Native offenders in the tribal courts.
Another highlight of the event was the presentation of the Start By Believing campaign, which was adopted by the tribe last year to promote greater awareness among law enforcement on working with victims of sexual assault.
Gila River Police Department Detective Tyesha Wood said proclamations adopted by tribal communities against sexual assault are a big step and victory for victims, because it provides support to the victim when reporting a sexual assault.
Special guest speaker Caroline Felicity Antone, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who survived a perilous journey as a sexual assault victim, said she lived through years of substance abuse and unhealthy relationships until turning her life around.
“I wanted to be loved, but I never knew how I wanted to be loved,” said Caroline. “It was easy to accept the bad things that were happening, that it was okay.”
She said her life spiraled out of control when she was sexually abused as a child, leaving her with emotional wounds that never healed.
In the years after her abuse, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which led to her living a dysfunctional life.
Caroline said recovering from that lifestyle wasn’t an easy road to travel down, but that she needed to realize that she also was an assaulter as well.
“I had to acknowledge a lot of the things I was doing to negatively cope with my situation,” said Caroline. “I was always looking for someone’s approval and putting my life in others’ hands.”
Today Caroline has contributed to several causes educating younger generation of Natives about the dangers of substance abuse associated with sexual abuse.
Waylon Pahona, known for his Facebook page Healthy Active Natives, shared his story of overcoming personal struggles related to being sexually abused as a young person.
He said there were many things that he would do to push the limits and living a life of trouble soon got old. The reality of the danger created by his actions prompted him to turn his life around for the better.
“I knew it wasn’t good to try and live life the way I did when I was younger, because I would get in all kinds of trouble,” said Pahona.
He said when he came to the Community to live in Maricopa Colony, where his mother is lived, he knew things had to change.
“When I got here I worked for the GRIC Employment & Training Department and I was establishing explorer programs to help the youth,” he said. “I knew that youth sometimes bear a lot of emotions and it doesn’t always come out in a good way.”
He said at one of his low points, suicide was an option and that it was hard to admit that he had a problem.
“The mission of getting better is accepting that help is needed. It’s hard to imagine I was [this] close to thinking about suicide. It’s scary to think about it now,” said Pahona.
Pahona runs a Facebook fitness group called Healthy Active Natives, which has 64,244 members, who contribute their own success stories.
“I lost a lot in the process, a relationship of 19 years, my father, and my brother,” said Pahona. “It was hard to see those so close to me pass on. I knew I had to do something to keep going to help others, even though I was in need as well,” he said. “Making changes and being successful aren’t things that are achieved overnight, but it’s about accepting [we] have a problem and fixing it in order to move on.”