"Voices Against Violence" honors domestic violence survivors, Ross
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH – Several Keetoowahs and members of the public came together on Oct. 24 for Voices Against Violence, an event that highlighted the complexities of domestic violence and gave the audience a chance to hear from domestic violence survivor Jimmie Ross.
UKB Health and Human Services hosted the event, with Director Jennifer Cole-Robinson organizing all activities and providing booklets with information on the cycle of violence, the power control wheel and safety planning.
Cole-Robinson acknowledged leaving a domestic violence situation is a process that often takes an average of seven times to break the cycle.
“The most common question I get is, ‘why do they stay? We have shelters. We have the Family Violence Prevention Program at UKB. Often, one of the most dangerous times for a domestic violence victim is when they’re leaving,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s just because they love that person. Good, bad, ugly, there is a love there. You can’t turn off love... They need to grieve that relationship and we don’t need to shame them.”
Cole-Robinson also highlighted the higher rates of domestic violence in Indian Country.
According to Cole-Robinson, over 84 percent of Native American and Alaskan women experience some sort of violence in their lifetime. For those who live on reservations, the murder rate is 10 times higher than the national average.
More than 60 percent of Native American and Alaskan women also experience psychological abuse, while their children can develop post-traumatic stress disorder at the same rate as combat veterans that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Though there are 566 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., only 26 shelters nationwide exist that provide culturally specific services for Native American and Alaskan survivors.
At UKB, Keetoowahs and the public both have access to the UKB Family Violence Project.
“We offer court accompaniment if they want to seek a protective order. We tell them about several things they need to start to gather,” said Cole-Robinson. “If you can, start setting aside a little bit of money so that you can have some other money to live on as part of an emergency fund. Develop a safety plan with your family, so when you decide to leave, your family knows you’re safe.”
Other services covered under the UKB Family Violence Project include gas vouchers to go to counseling, deposits for housing and referrals for shelter stays.
Cole-Robinson is no stranger to working with survivors in shelters, which is where she first met Keetoowah and domestic violence survivor Jimmie Ross.
Ross, who has told her story to several outlets including Amnesty International and The New York Times, first met her abuser as a teenager and was with him for over two decades before finally leaving.
During her presentation Ross also shared her own experience of how her abuser would use the threat of violence against their daughters or others as a way to control her from leaving.
“One of the most dangerous times for a domestic violence victim is when they’re leaving,” she said. “(My family) would hide in the woods. We’d run. Nobody really wanted us because they were afraid of him. He would embarrass me and come into people’s houses and drag me out. Most of the time I would just go with him because I didn’t want him to hurt anybody.”
Ross detailed several events she had experienced as a victim of domestic violence including being burned, punched, drugged and sexually assaulted.
"He told me, ‘look at the sun one more time, because you’re never going to see it again. You’re going to die today,’” she said. “Where could I run? He had a body bag and he said, ‘I bought this for you.’”
When Ross finally broke the cycle and took shelter with her daughters at Help in Crisis in Tahlequah, she ended up staying for more than a year and a half while she recovered from her physical and emotional injuries.
“It took me a while to heal. I learned how to trust. When I found out I could really trust those women, I just vomited it out and it felt good. I’m doing good and my girls are doing good. I’m a survivor,” she said.
In honor of Jimmie’s courage and her advocacy for other domestic violence victims and survivors, Cole-Robinson surprised Jimmie with an award that now carries her name.
“Jimmie is a proud Keetoowah and I want to honor her for everything she’s gone through and what she is doing for our people. Assistant to the Chief Travis Wolfe and I went to our secretary and told her, ‘we want to put together an annual award and the first recipient will be Jimmie,” said Cole-Robinson. “Tonight, I am giving Jimmie Ross a certificate. It is the Jimmie Ross Outstanding Legacy Award. Jimmie Ross is receiving this award for her unyielding spirit, passion and outstanding work as a domestic violence advocate and survivor. In the future, the recipient of this award should be a stalwart member of the United Keetoowah Band and has demonstrated outstanding deeds in representing their tribe based upon dedication, outreach and excellence in their particular field or cause.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please contact the UKB Family Violence Program for support and resources at 918-871-2830.