Sisters by Choice: United by Voice


Contributors: Jeneile Luebke, Jacqueline Callari-Robinson,
Elizabeth Rice; Ashley Ruiz, Kaylen Moore

           As nurse scholars, allies and advocates, our hearts are broken as we collectively share the horror of yet another woman lost to gender-based violence and express empathy for the family and friends of Gabby Petito.  There are no words to describe the loss of a brilliant loving woman, and all too often, this is our reality and the emotional distress we experience in our work as healers.  As practicing forensic nurses, scholars, and advocates we see and anticipate this trauma far too often, and it is our working reality. As antiracist and social justice activists, we are committed to sharing stories that all lives lost should be met with the same outrage and immediate response, quick compassion, justice.  As Indigenous women and allies, we are using our collective voices to highlight the systemic racism, oppression, and injustice that exists in response to survivors of gender-based violence among Indigenous women by police and mainstream media.

“Sisters by Choice, United by Voice”
Pictured from left to right:  Lori Rice, Jaqui Callari-Robinson, Elizabeth Rice, CJ Figgins-Hunter, Jeneile Luebke, Lucy Mkandawire-Vahlmu, photographed at the Lac Courte Oreilles Women’s Emergency Shelter.  This photo represents the sisterhood of community and academic partners coming together to address the crisis of gender based violence among ethnic minority women. 

           Anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse or intimate partner violence, but some communities are at greater risk after a sexual assault, and the response to their victimization is not heard or felt with the same compassion.  Indigenous women are disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence including intimate partner violence and sexual assault (McKinley; Luebke, 2021).  The US National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) revealed that 84.7 percent of Indigenous women experienced gender-based violence during their lifetime, and 56.1 percent of Indigenous women and 25.5 percent of men have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime (Rosay, 2016). Indigenous women in the United States also have some of the highest rates of homicide perpetrated against them compared to other racially defined groups; homicide is the third-leading cause of death among Indigenous girls ages 1-19 and the sixth-leading cause of death for Indigenous women ages 20-44 (CDC, 2020). 

           The unjust crisis of gender-based violence against Indigenous women began with the earliest colonial contact.  Violence against Indigenous women became a means of colonial conquest by European settlers through the social construction of Indigenous women as subhuman, exotic, and sexually promiscuous, leading to the idea that Indigenous women were (and still are) deserving of sexual violation (Casselman, 2016; Deer, 2015; Luebke, 2021).  Sadly, this violence continues into the present time.  For example, Native American women and children make up to 40% or more of sex trafficking victims in some states, even though they represent only 1-2% of the general population (Native Hope, 2021). 

           Indigenous women also experience systemic injustice and prejudice through erasure and invisibility, fueled by a lack of media coverage when they have gone missing or murdered.  Racialized and stereotypes are still pervasive in contemporary representations of Indigenous women in all aspects of society. When media reports occur about Indigenous women who are missing or murdered, the reports often sensationalize and normalize the violence in tribal communities.  Playing on centuries of historical and intergenerational violence, the media coverage of our MMIW is often infused with undertones of stereotypes and assumptions of our communities with references to drugs, alcohol, sex work, and victim-blaming, and shaming after experiences with gender-based violence (Native Hope, 2021).

           Conversely, when an affluent, white woman goes missing, it often comprises nationwide manhunts, alerts, an outpouring of prayers and support from the public, and round-the-clock news coverage.  Currently, the world has recently witnessed the disappearance and recovery of the body of Gabby Petito.  The police and FBI response was swift and immediate after Gabby’s family reported her missing on September 11, ten days after her 23-year-old boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, returned home from a months-long cross-country trip in the van without her.  After her reported disappearance, a media obsession and sensation began with frequent updates in national and international news outlets.  A google search on September 22, 2021, yielded 2,910,000,000 hits for “Gabby Petito.”  Sommers (2016) discusses this very issue of race and gender disparities in the media by highlighting the “white missing white woman syndrome”.  Time and time again, we see round the clock news coverage when a white affluent woman goes missing, while Indigenous and other women of color are not seen as deserving of such valuable media coverage.  It is critical to note that widespread media coverage of a missing woman can make the difference between life or death. Widespread media coverage often aids in the timely discovery of a missing woman, subsequently saving her life, as well as perpetrator being caught or not. 

           In contrast, the disappearance of young Indigenous women such as Katelyn Kelly, an enrolled member of the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin, received minimal media coverage limited to local media sources.  Katlyn was missing for nine months before her remains were finally recovered, and her family could grieve their loss, in comparison to the eight days that it took authorities to locate the body of Gabby Petito (Bezucha, 2021).  It was because of grassroots efforts from the Native community who performed endless searches, held vigils and gatherings to raise awareness about her disappearance.  Katelyn and her family did not receive a national response, teams of forensic experts, and endless outpouring of support from around the country, even though they were deserving of it.  In solidarity and collaboration with the Native community, we as recipients of a US Department of Justice FAST Grant, Tracking Our Truth, funded a billboard in hopes of gaining attention to finding this beautiful young soul while she was still missing. 

“Sacred Site”.  This is considered a sacred site on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation by tribal members.  Our team was privileged and honored to be taken there by a tribal member to offer tobacco.

            Many missing and murdered Indigenous women today remain unnamed and their disappearances unheard of or unknown.  It is unknown how many Indigenous women, men, and children are currently missing or have been murdered in the US.  Collecting and tracking accurate data has yet to be prioritized by our local, state, and federal authorities.  There are thousands of reports of missing Indigenous women and girls every year, and few of them make it to the Department of Justice missing person database (NAMUS).  For example, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing Indigenous women and girls nationally, and only 116 of those were logged into the NAMUS database (Urban Indian Health Institute, 2018).  In Wyoming, the state that Gabby Petito went missing from, there are at least 710 Indigenous people, mostly women and girls, reported missing between 2011 and 2020 (Wyoming MMIW Task Force, 2021).  A google search for “MMIW,” also on September 22, 2021, yields 679,000 hits.  The lack of media coverage of our MMIW relatives sends a clear message to women that they are not “worthy victims” deserving of media attention and valuable law enforcement resources, leading to further systemic oppression and violence against our people.

            Highlighting the pervasiveness of racial disparities and inequities that exist surrounding the phenomenon of missing and murdered Indigenous women has implications for practicing nurses and allies.  As with any survivor, it is crucial to recognize that the complex layers of current and historical trauma and resultant health disparities when working with Indigenous communities.  Given the colonial history of intergenerational and historical trauma experienced by Indigenous women, the first step that for nurses delivering services to address gender-based violence is to have a clear understanding of the traumatic effects of colonization and the impacts of violence, as well as developing confidence in the types of culturally safe and trauma informed care that will be effective (National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, 2021).  Trauma informed care and practice embraces a recovery focused, strengths-based approach, with an understanding and response to the neurobiological impacts of trauma.  Trauma informed care emphasizes the psychological, physical, and emotional safety of survivors while consistently providing opportunities for the personal control and empowerment of survivors (National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, 2021; Klingspohn, 2018). This ensures that we as nurses actively resist the perpetuation of trauma and oppression of our patients, while simultaneously building trust with survivors and their communities. 

As recipients of the United States, FAST Grant, Tracking Our Truth, we value the opportunity given to us by our community partners Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe (LCO), Gerald Ignace Indian Health Care Center (GIHC). We commit to advocating for all individuals and working side-by-side to create access to Advocacy driven Medical Forensic programming that is survivor-led and Native community-centered. Through this grant, we have learned to listen attentively and value the insights shared with us. All programing and outreach are contingent on consensus, as is this blog and all information and actions related to this project. We commit to showing humility, leading from behind, ensuring that our activities are antiracist, and listening for feedback. In a previous Nursology blog we omitted one of our valuable partners and were accountable for our actions with a commitment never to repeat the act of exclusion. As we continue to work on this project, we will amplify the voices of the community, listen with respect, and continue to nurture this sacred opportunity to build and value relationships to offer access to advocacy-driven medical forensic care. Last week former District Attorney of Ashland County and Wisconsin Representative Sean Duffy was complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes and oppression on National television.  He was quoted saying, “They burned villages, raped women, seized children, and took land,” referring to the American Indian communities in Wisconsin. He also stated that “the conditions from Native Americans have everything to do with government dependency, cycles of poverty and alcoholism, and family breakdowns”, with zero evidence or factual basis for his claims (Native News Online, 2021). Upon hearing this news, we immediately acted, sharing this news and video with our National FAST Grant partners and the Social Justice Committee of the International Association of Forensic Nurses. We commit to advocating for American Indian Communities, using our privilege as nurses.

References

Bezucha, D. (24 September 2021).  A Special Feature in Wisconsin’s 2020 Domestic Abuse        Homicide Report Points to Need for More Accurate MMIW Data.  Wisconsin Public     Radio.  Retrieved from: https://www.wpr.org/were-forgotten-new-report-draws-long-       overdue-attention-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-girls.

Casselman, A. L. (2016). Injustice in Indian country: Jurisdiction, American law, and sexual violence against native women. New York: Peter Lang.

Center for Disease Control (2020). Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2018 on CDC WONDER         Online Database.  Retrieved from: https://wonder.cdc.gov/controller/datarequest/D77

Deer, S. (2015). The beginning and end of rape: Confronting sexual violence in native America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Luebke, J., Hawkins, M; Lucchesi, A., Weitzel, J., Deal, E., Ruiz, A., Dressel, A. & Mkandawire-Valhmu, L (2021).  The Utility of Using a Postcolonial and Indigenous Feminist Framework in Research and Practice about Intimate Partner Violence against American Indian Women.  Journal of Transcultural Nursing. 32(6) 639-646.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1043659621992602

Klingspohn, D. M. (2018). The importance of culture in addressing domestic violence for First Nation’s women. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(JUN). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00872

McKinley, C. E., & Knipp, H. (2021). “You Can Get Away with Anything Here… No Justice at All”- Sexual Violence Against U.S. Indigenous Females and Its Consequences. Gender Issues, (0123456789). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-021-09291-6

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (3 May 2021).  An Overview of Shelter and Advocacy Program Development in Indian Country:  From the Roots Up.  Retrieved from: https://www.niwrc.org/sites/default/files/images/resource/From_the_Roots_Up.pdf

Native Hope (5 January 2021).  January is Human Trafficking Month.  Native Hope blog. Retrieved from:  https://blog.nativehope.org/january-is-human-trafficking-awareness-month

Native News Online (17 October 2021).  Fox News attacks Native Americans after Vice

President Harris calls on Americans to reckon with its shameful past.  Retrieved from:

https://nativenewsonline.net/opinion/fox-news-attacks-native-americans-after-vice-president-harris-calls-on-americans-to-reckon-with-its-shameful-past

Rosay A. (2016). Violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and men. National Institute of Justice Journal. 2016, 277:1-            https://nij.gov/journals/277/pages/violence-against-american-indians-alaska-         natives.aspx.

Sommers, Z. (2016).  Missing White Woman Syndrome: An Empirical Analysis of Race and       Gender Disparities in Online News Coverage of Missing Persons. Journal of Criminal            Law & Criminology, 106(2).  Retrieved from:              https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/jclc/vol106/iss2/4

Urban Indian Health Institute (2018).  Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls- A anapshot of data from 71 urban cities in the United States.  Retrieved from: https://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf

Wyoming MMIW taskforce (2021).  Missing and Murdered Indigenous People: Wyoming Statewide Report.  Retrieved from: https://www.niwrc.org/sites/default/files/images/resource/wy_mmip_report.pdf

About the contributors

Jeneile Luebke

Jeneile Luebke PhD, RN is an Anna Julia Cooper post-doctoral fellow at University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Nursing.  She received her LPN/ADN degrees in Bemidji, MN, and her BS and MS in Nursing from UW-Madison, and her PhD in Nursing at UW-Milwaukee.  Jeneile is an Anna Julia Cooper Post-Doctoral Nurse Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Nursing.  She’s Anishinaabe/ Métis (enrolled member of Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa).  Her area of research and expertise include gender-based violence in the lives of Indigenous women, community health and utilization and application of postcolonial and Indigenous feminist frameworks. She is a key part of a team of multi-site researchers who are involved in several community engaged research and service grants that aim to better understand the lived experiences of gender-based violence, as well as advocating for survivor-led, trauma informed, and culturally safe interventions and options for survivors of gender-based violence.  Her other current work focuses on the impacts of gender-based violence on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous women and girls, particularly focusing upon the relationship between land violence and gender-based violence

Elizabeth Rice

Elizabeth Rice is an enrolled member of Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Director of the Lac Courte Oreilles Emergency Women’s Shelter.

Jacqueline Callari Robinson

Jacqueline Callari Robinson, BSN, RN, SANE-A/P, DF-IAFN is presently the Research Assistant for Tracking Our Truth, Department of Justice, FAST Grant, and a Ph.D. Student at The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Jacqueline’s clinical practice is a tele safe nurse for the United Concierge in Troy, New York, taking call to evaluate sexual assault patients. In 2020, Jacqueline edited the SANE A/P Preparation Manuscript, published by Springer Publishing Company. Her expertise is assessing and providing sexual abuse medical forensic care and training providers and systems to offer patient-centered compassionate care. Her present duties include oversight of the Advocacy Driven Medical Forensic Care to AI communities throughout Wisconsin, training nurses, program development, providing technical assistance, and Medical/Forensic program sustainability. Jacqueline also serves as Co-Chair of the IAFN Social Justice Committee, creates statewide protocols and procedures to develop survivor social systems response to sexual assault victims.  In 2011 she was awarded the Distinguished Fellow award from The International Association of Forensic Nurses. Jacqueline also provides case consultation and technical assistance; and develops training materials, resources, and publications.

Ashley Ruiz

Ashley Ruiz, BSN, RN is a doctoral nursing student and clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. She is also a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) at Aurora Sinai in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, through which she has contributed to enhancing excellence in nursing care by addressing the healthcare needs of women who have experienced violence. She began her nursing trajectory (CNA and ADN) at Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin, after which she practiced at a local magnet hospital. She received her BS in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee in 2015, while continuing a commitment to nursing practice through gaining experience within community health, long-term care, leadership, and in acute care settings. Through her experience in practice, Ashley began to identify gaps where healthcare providers failed to address the needs of patients who had experienced violence. Based on this experience, Ashley began to pursue a doctoral degree through the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. Her current work focuses on advancing feminist theory in nursing science for the purposes of providing a theoretical foundation for addressing the problem of violence against women, particularly for ethnically diverse populations.

Kaylen Moore

Kaylen Moore, BSN, CCRN, SANE-A, SANE-P.  Kaylen Moore is currently a PhD nursing student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She earned her BSN from Marquette University in 2003. Kaylen began her career at Froedtert Hospital, a Level I trauma academic medical center, where she has held many leadership positions in Shared Governance and continues to be involved in nursing research. She has been a Forensic Nurse Examiner with Advocate Aurora Healthcare since 2013. She has contributed to forensic nursing practice and the trauma-informed care of sexual assault patients through her authorship of the chapters Medical Forensic Photography in the Sexual Assault Patient and Medical Forensic Documentation in the book IAFN Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Certification: A Review for the SANE-A® and SANE-P® Exams. Her research interest includes gender-based violence among ethnic minority women with a current focus on Black women survivors of intimate partner violence.