With trepidation, the young woman can barely get the words out, but she knows the bruises have already revealed her deepest, darkest secret. Robin listens attentively to the story she knows by heart, and she can barely hide the flinching pain she feels in her chest. “I’ve sat in that chair. I’ve had those bruises, too,” Robin consoles. “But this doesn’t have to be the end for you.”
“I was a victim”
Robin LeBeau, the sexual assault coordinator at one of our partners on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, is one of several women who want to help Native American women find their voice. “I was a victim. And I know how hard it is…to keep going. You can’t do it alone. That’s why I really got involved,” Robin relates.
Finding her own voice to speak out, Robin became an advocate for the countless women on the reservation who experience the same abuse. One in three Native American women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape. This is a statistic that Robin and her staff know all too well.
These women have all utilized the center themselves. That is what makes them such strong advocates to educate and expose the domestic violence, sexual assaults, substance abuse, and collapse of the family unit on the reservation.
Helping women rediscover their value
In the Lakota culture, women were always highly revered. They once were considered equals, politically and socially. They cared for the material property and educated the family through oral traditions. Now, many of these once meaningful and powerful voices have become silenced and submissive. That’s why we want to help women to rediscover their role and value in society.
On a typical day, Robin and her coworkers may travel to any one of the 21 communities on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. The reservation covers 2.8 million acres, which makes it roughly the size of Connecticut. There are 8,500-9,000 people who reside on the reservation, but the tribe has an enrollment of 19,000 members.
Educating the members on healthy relationships, elder abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse is more than a full-time job. “We hope we have laid a foundation,” Robin reflects. “If I am not out in the public, I am here working with women and seeking new ways to reach the communities and break the cycle.”
In order to do this, they realize that they must give the women the ability to connect with each other, to voice their pain, and to find the strength to speak out.
That’s why Native Hope seeks to help connect as many women as possible and empower them to voice their stories so they are not prisoners of their abusers.