Hopi Health Care Center hosts sexual violence awareness campaign

POLACCA, Ariz. - "The Hopi and Tewa people must build a community with no more tolerance for sexual abuse," Lisa Lomavaya said, as she faced over 100 people who braved the strong winds of April 1 to attend the kick off event for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. "We must change for the sake of future generations."

Lomavaya introduced Capt. DeAlva Honahnie, CEO of the Hopi Health Care Center (HHCC) who welcomed the guests.

"It's great that you've taken this amount of time to support the cause," Honahnie said. "Sexual violence affects the whole community - we've all been affected. The victims are impacted, but remember that the families of the perpetrators are also impacted. In a small community like this one, size amplifies the impact on how people recover, and how they seek help."

Hopi Tribal Secretary Mary Felter declared her support in a proclamation that concluded with her promise to "join the Hopi Domestic Violence Program and support services programs in believing that all Hopi residents must be part of the solution to end sexual violence."

Valaura James, who heads the Hopi Domestic Violence Program, has seen an increase in incidents, and said that one in three women and one in four girls will experience sexual violence.

James illustrated her point by counting off a row of women seated to her left.

"Imagine who among us are the number three or four who will experience violence," James challenged.

James went on to define sexual violence as unwanted sexual contact such as fondling or rape, occurring in families, dates or stranger contact.

"Sexual violence produces profound and immediate consequences, including venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy, depression and suicide. It produces social consequences such as rejection and stigma," James said. "The victims experience guilt and shame. We need to ensure that the offenders pay for their actions, so that victims can have peace of mind."

Dorma L. Sahneya founded the Hopi-Tewa Women's Coalition to End Abuse, one of several programs she created since her return to the reservation 13 years ago. She invited others to join the coalition.

"We have to be strong as caretakers of our children," Sahneya said. "I am sure that many Hopi men are interested in this issue, and are a valuable resource."

There are many reasons why a victim finds it hard to report abuse, Sahneha explained, including fear of retaliation from the perpetrator or his family, fear of blame, or causing problems between families.

"For too long we have minded our own business," Sahneya concluded. "It is time for us to change those practices [of secrecy] ... It is time to voice our collective decision that sexual violence must end."

Lomavaya described a conference she attended in Washington, D.C. where 90 percent of attendees were victims.

"The thing that inspired me the most was that these women were able to take something so traumatic in their lives as inspiration to help others," Lomavaya said.

One young woman described her abuse at the hands of a stepfather from the age of five until her freshman year, and said that efforts to tell her mother were unsuccessful.

"I had a lot of rage and anger towards my family because no one wanted to believe me," the young woman said. "I didn't want to hurt my little brother because that's his dad. I know what it's like to be without a dad and I didn't want that for him.

"It wasn't until I wrote her a letter the night before I moved to Phoenix ... when it opened her eyes," the woman said.

"I'm still going through the healing process, but I'm strong enough to tell my story," the woman said. "My message to you is to shine the light so others can be aware. We want to believe it's not on our rez, but it is."

A second young victim told her story in a voice often inaudible, but her tears spoke of her ordeal. Though telling her story had made her feel better, she said that she still sometimes feels that the abuse was her fault because she wasn't able to fight back, and that going through the legal process had been frightening as well.

Still, she encouraged other victims to report their abuse.

"It's going to be embarrassing. It's going to be hard. But know that you are not alone," she said.

Carey Onsae with HHCC said that employees of the hospital see a lot of sexual abuse in the community, and that many are in denial.

"Seventy percent of all sexual abuse is not being reported," Onsae said. "I believe our theme will help our community be aware - we cannot walk around with our eyes closed anymore."

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