WIND RIVER RESERVATION — New support programs are starting up on the Wind River Reservation, giving victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes new options for help.
Wind River residents will soon have two new off-reservation resources in the area in addition to some existing services — programs that aim to help victims as they deal with abuse or violence.
Combined, the new programs — the Red Paint Alliance and Eastern Shoshone Victim Services — will offer help, suggestions and support to reservation residents and tribal citizens, who face higher rates of violence and sexual assault than other groups in the U.S.
For the first time, those needing help on Wind River will have a wide range options for readily accessible services. The Northern Arapaho Tribe’s Wind River Cares clinic will also be offering victim services.
“It’s exciting that these services are popping up because they’re needed,” said Stafani Wanner, director of Eastern Shoshone Victim Services.
When the Eastern Shoshone Victim Services program starts, some of its services for victims of crimes like domestic violence and sexual assault will include help filing protection orders, witness coordination between law enforcement, help making a safety plan for victims and acting as an advocate for them in court — all in a non-judgmental way.
The program will also give referrals for other services like shelters and counseling and hopes to educate community members.
Wanner said they hope to start offering their services in a month, adding that those seeking help can choose to remain anonymous if they wish.
Eastern Shoshone Victim Services will have three full-time staff members at first.
Erin Duran and Suzanna Tillman, co-directors of the Red Paint Alliance, said they offer similar services for victims of domestic and dating violence, stalking, human trafficking and sexual assault.
The Red Paint Alliance started offering its confidential services, which include a crisis hotline, shelter placement, relocation help, emotional support and help navigating the court system, last month.
The program’s most used service so far has been helping to file protection orders. Duran and Tillman said they eventually hope to have shelters in all Wind River communities and also plan to incorporate outreach and education into their program.
Some victims have even just come into the program’s office to sit on the comfortable furniture, talk about what they’re experiencing and learn about available resources, Duran and Tillman said.
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While they said those seeking help have come to Red Paint Alliance at a steady rate, one of the biggest challenges is getting the word out and reversing perceptions, especially around domestic violence, that those being abused are victims and that it’s not normal to be victimized.
“We grew up around it,” said Tillman, who has also been a social worker.
Other barriers to seeking help, according to Red Paint Alliance, are shame or embarrassment, fear of retaliation, pressure to not report abuse from family members and a lack of knowledge of available resources.
Duran, a Northern Arapaho citizen, said it takes courage to seek help. Tillman, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, said any person asking for help should know that any solutions will be driven by them.
“We want people to know we’re here and available … We’ll help anybody, day or night.” she said. “It’s what they want to do. It’s not what we think they need.”
While most victims are women, anybody seeking help — non-tribal members and men included — can go to the Red Paint Alliance, Tillman and Duran said.
The start of the new programs come as policymakers and advocates in Wyoming and nationwide begin to recognize and look for solutions to a problem that those in Indian Country have long known: high numbers of Indigenous people have been murdered or go missing in addition to the higher rates of violence they face.
For example, more than four in five Indigenous women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to a 2016 National Institute of Justice study. And American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.5 times more likely to experience violent crimes and at least twice more likely to experience rape or sexual assault compared to other races, according to a 2013 National Congress of American Indians policy brief.
For Collette Tillman Eagle, an advocate and victim services coordinator at Eastern Shoshone Victim Services, childhood trauma and past relationship experiences made her want to help to reduce violence on Wind River.
She said she’d like to return to traditional ways where violence and abuse aren’t tolerated and women are again respected as “the givers of life.”
“We’re here, and we’re going to help,” said Tillman Eagle, an Eastern Shoshone citizen. “It’s time to end the violence and start having a community that cares about each other all the time.”