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What is Domestic Violence or Dating Violence?

A Native American couple holding hands.Domestic violence and dating violence happens when an intimate partner uses a repetitive pattern of abuse to maintain power and control over their partner. The abuse can physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a person from acting freely, or force them to behave in ways they do not want.

Abuse can happen to anyone. It is not limited to a specific age, class, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Abuse can happen in relationships where couples are married, living together, dating or have children together.

Violent behavior can appear at any time in a relationship, though possessive, controlling and other alarming behavior often reveals itself as the relationship becomes more serious.

We know it can be difficult to talk about domestic violence in Tribal communities when people ignore that it’s happening or feel uncomfortable when the subject comes up. However, the reality is that American Indians and Alaska Natives experience domestic violence at higher rates than other groups.

Domestic violence and dating violence are not Native American traditions, and neither is ever okay.

Types of Abuse

There are several types of abuse. People in abusive relationships often experience more than one type of abuse. Abusive behaviors can include, but are not limited to:

Physical Abuse:

  • Pushes, hits, slaps, punches, or strangles you
  • Bites, beats, stabs, drowns or burns you
  • Pulls your hair
  • Hurts you with weapons
  • Hurts your children
  • Hurts your pets
  • Forces you to use drugs or alcohol
  • Traps you in your home or blocks you from leaving
  • Drives dangerously to scare you when you are in the car with them
  • Uses weapons to threaten to hurt you, your children, family members or pets 

Emotional Abuse:

  • Calls you names, insults or criticizes you
  • Constantly yells or screams at you to put you down
  • Isolates you from your family, friends or community
  • Accuses you of cheating and acts extremely jealous or possessive
  • Threatens to hurt you, your children, family members or pets 
  • Cheats on you or flirts with others to intentionally hurt you
  • Forces you to commit a crime
  • Blames you for their abusive behavior or denies their actions are hurtful (ex. gaslighting)
  • Learn more about what gaslighting looks like in a relationship

Cultural Abuse:

  • Criticizes you for “not being Native enough” or that you’re “too Indian”
  • Challenges your tribal status/blood quantum
  • Forces you to participate in cultural practices (not your own)
  • Uses hurtful stereotypes to criticize you (ex. “Indians are drunks, lazy,” etc.)
  • Uses tribal membership against you (ex. “My tribe won’t let you…”)
  • Tells you that you’re not allowed to drum, dance, sing, fast or otherwise participate in traditions because of your gender
  • Read our blog about “What Is Cultural Abuse?

Spiritual Abuse:

  • Prays against you or your family
  • Tells you that your prayers or beliefs have no purpose or value
  • Restricts you from honoring spiritual or tribal beliefs
  • Falsifies or misrepresents spiritual or tribal beliefs or values to get you to do something you don’t want to do
  • Tells you that you cannot attend ceremony or visit sacred places
  • Practices bad medicine against you

Sexual Abuse:

  • Calls you hurtful sexual names 
  • Hurts the sexual parts of your body (ex. fondles, grabs, pinches)
  • Continually pressures to have sex and/or tries to normalize demands for sex by saying things like, “I need it, I’m a man”
  • Becomes angry or violent when refused sex
  • Gives you drugs or alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions and to where you are unable to consent to sexual activity
  • Forces you to have sex or engage in unwanted sexual activity (ex. rape, anal rape, forced masturbation or forced oral sex)
  • Forces you to dress in a sexual way
  • Ignores your feelings about sex
  • Holds you down during sex
  • Uses weapons or other objects to hurt the sexual parts of your body
  • Records or photographs you in a sexual way without your consent
  • Forces or manipulates you to watch pornography 
  • Intentionally tries to pass on a sexually transmitted disease to you
  • Hides or sabotages birth control
  • Threatens to leave if you do not get pregnant
  • Read our blog about “How Abusive Partners Use Sexual Assault as a Form of Control

Financial Abuse:

  • Gives you an allowance and tracks how much you spend
  • Refuses to give you money for necessities like food, clothes, transportation and/or medicine
  • Keeps your paycheck or per capita payments in their bank account and doesn’t give you access to it
  • Maxes out your credit cards or takes out loans in your name without telling you
  • Prevents you from working or tells you how much you can work
  • Pressures you to ask friends or relatives for money
  • Steals money from you or from shared accounts
  • Keeps money, accounts or financial information hidden from you

Digital Abuse:

  • Constantly calls or texts to “check-in”
  • Repeatedly looks through your texts, phone messages or outgoing calls
  • Demands access and passwords to online accounts
  • Monitors your Internet and computer use
  • Tells you who you can and can’t be friends with on social media sites
  • Pressures you to send sexually explicit videos or photos of yourself
  • Humiliates you by tagging you in hurtful social media updates
  • Reveals secrets or private photos of you online
  • Sends threatening, degrading or harassing emails, messages or texts to you
  • Uses GPS or social media location updates to track or follow you

If any of these behaviors raise a red flag for you, you may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. To get help, call the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483), available daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST. Here’s more information about what to expect when you call. Remember: it’s always safe, anonymous and confidential when you call.

The Battering Triangle

Studies consistently indicate that women are disproportionately the victims of domestic violence, and most of those crimes are committed by men against women [1]. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that domestic violence can and does occur in two spirit and LGBTQ relationships and against men perpetrated by women. As such, it is important to stress that culturally based, confidential support and services should apply equally to all domestic violence survivors, whether female, male, LGBTQ or two spirited [2].

The Power and Control Wheel, which is a non-Native diagram used to describe what typically occurs in an abusive relationship, has been revised by Native domestic violence advocates to reflect the root causes of violence in our tribal communities. The revised tool is the Battering Triangle and it helps depict the hierarchy of violence in our communities. The triangle includes cultural and ritual abuse and is reflective of colonization and the oppression that our people continue to endure. As a tool, it informs our advocacy at StrongHearts and better informs the broader community about the effects that historical trauma has in tribal communities, specifically as it relates to domestic violence.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 187635 (Oct. 2001) [1]

Family Violence and Prevention Services Act (FVPSA) or other federally funded tribal programs may not discriminate based on age, disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity and all services must be comparable for everyone seeking services. FVPSA § 10406(c)(2) and 45 CFR §1370.5. [2]