By Rachel Barr, a Summer 2012 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
The short film, “Burden of Silence,” sheds light on heartbreaking but hidden stories of sexual abuse and violence against native women in rural Alaska, where one in three native women will be sexually abused in their lifetime – more than twice the national average. Directed by Tod Lending and distributed by Aljazeera, the film focuses on the stories of three native women and looks at the devastating impacts of the abuse and the strength and courage each woman has embodied in order to being the healing process.
Alaskan native, Donna Erikson, tells the chilling story of being sexually abused by her cousin and the years of healing it took for her to come to grips with what happened. “I believed in my heart from a young age that I was unworthy … The abuse, the sexual abuse, had gone to the very core of my human spirit and it had taken away who I was, who I was meant to be,” said Donna in an emotional interview in the film.
Two other native women were also profiled in the film. Ester tells of also being sexually assaulted by a cousin when she was fourteen. Sadly, she still partially blames herself for what happened. “He started holding me and everything and that’s when I started to ask myself what was going on… I started to freeze, I couldn’t say anything.” To this day she thinks that if she had said something, maybe she wouldn’t have been assaulted. As a young woman living in the same village as her perpetrator and trying to move on with her life, she still is brought to tears remembering that night. Her story broke my heart.
Older survivors, like the final unnamed woman in the film, have worked hard to move past their pain and go on with their lives. She explained that confronting her perpetrator and seeking counseling were some of the best things for her healing process. Today, she affirms her strength and hope, “I refuse to be defeated. I refuse to live a life of hopelessness and helplessness,” she said.
In a short blog post, it’s impossible to fully describe the emotion, heartbreak, and courage conveyed by these three women featured in “Burden of Silence.” Watch the entire 25 minute video and hear these women’s stories for yourself.
Strengthening Laws to Stop Sexual Violence
In the United States, sexual violence is taboo. We know it happens, but people and media rarely talk about it except in cases which draw national attention, like the Sandusky case at Penn State University. Due to an unwillingness to discuss the subject, few people recognize the extreme impact of sexual violence on minority communities in our country.
The Violence Against Women Act would provide resources to all survivors of abuse. The Senate version of the bill protects Native American victims, immigrant victims, LGBT victims and victims from other marginalized communities, while the House version actually rolls back protections for victims of violence.