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Section 6: Victim-Centered Approaches

Culture and Diversity Cultural Responsiveness Meeting Needs for Language Assistance Providers
Sexual Violence and Faith Cultural and Ethnic Communities Victims Who Have Disabilities
HIV-Affected Communities Gender and Sexual Identity Across the Lifespan
Location-Specific Communities System-Based Communities Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault

Cultural and Ethnic Communities

SARTs should consider racial justice critical in addressing and ending sexual violence. Committing to racial justice propels sexual violence prevention work forward and helps to dismantle power imbalances that have long existed in the United States.

SARTs should commit to using their power and privilege to ensure that the needs of communities of color are at the center of sexual violence prevention and response. SARTs should work to develop resources, research, and networks to address sexual violence against people of color. The work must include and be informed by all voices that speak to the connections between sexual violence and oppression, and should seek out partners that have an intersectional approach.

SARTs and individual agencies will only be successful in ending sexual violence when they examine and dismantle all forms of oppression. Devaluing communities of color fuels sexual violence. When all service providers address the connections between violence and sexism, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, adultism, heterosexism, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression, we acknowledge oppression as part of the same system of values that fuels sexual violence.

Services and prevention efforts must include and be accountable to people of color.

American Indians and Alaskan Natives

The term AI/AN describes a diverse community of individuals who live in every state and territory of the United States. [52] The American Indian community, comprised of 1.9 million people, continues to grow. [53]

Sexual violence against AI/AN is a significant problem. Indigenous individuals are victimized at an alarmingly high rate in all geographic locations, including on tribal land and in U.S. cities, where the majority of AI/AN individuals (72 percent) live. [54]

Some 56.1 percent of AI/AN women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and 14.4 percent have experienced it in the past year. [55]

Among AI/AN men, 27.5 percent have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and 9.9 percent have experienced it in the past year. [56]

AI/AN communities and lands are frequently less safe and sometimes dramatically more dangerous than most other places in the United States. [57]

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center gratefully acknowledges the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, for allowing us to reproduce, in part or in whole, the video Violence Against AI/AN Women and Men. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this video are those of the speaker(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the United States, 567 unique, federally recognized tribes exist, each comprising a sovereign nation. Each tribal nation has its own government structure, culture, and unique response to victims in its community. Tribal governments also have unique relationships with the U.S. government that impact where and to whom victims report, and how and by whom a sexual assault is investigated and prosecuted.

When an AI/AN victim discloses an assault, the responder must navigate the logistical, tribal, and legal complexities. These factors can detract from any responder’s ability to provide services. Thus, collaboration within tribal communities — and between tribal and U.S. governments and organizations — is essential to meet the needs of AI/AN victims, including providing appropriate, timely, and relevant referrals.

Sexual assault is a part of life experiences for most AI/AN persons. Almost everyone in AI/AN communities knows people who have been sexually assaulted.

According to the Urban Institute, American Indian women often encounter difficulty accessing critical 24-hour emergency services, health clinics, and trained sexual assault forensic examiners (SAFE). [58] SARTs can be instrumental in developing pathways to reporting, including educating individuals on where to report and ensuring that provided services are tribally and culturally appropriate.

The SART model can help build the trust and collaboration necessary to improve responses to AI/AN victims, including developing standards for reporting, investigation, prosecution, and accountability for offenders. SARTs also begin the healing process from the health care perspective. Victims do not always choose to report to law enforcement, but SANEs listen, provide medical care, provide STI and pregnancy prevention, and connect victims to counseling services.

Some tribes may have structures or practices that naturally lend themselves toward collaboration, having long histories of collective work to address community concerns. For other tribes, partnering across systems to develop a SART may be a slow process, centered around trust and relationship building. It may be determined that a SART is not the right fit for every tribe or community, or that the timing for development of a SART may not be right.

SARTs that work with AI/AN victims are responsible for understanding how to meet the needs of this population. This section of the SART Toolkit provides information essential for creating the trust and collaboration needed to provide safe and supportive services to victims and for facilitating the means to hold offenders accountable through effective investigation and prosecution.

Barriers to Services for AI/AN Individuals

AI/AN victims of sexual assault experience similar barriers to reporting and seeking services that non-native victims do: fear of reprisal, shame, self-blame, privacy concerns, and confusion regarding options.

AI/AN victims face additional barriers to reporting and seeking services because of historical trauma that has cemented into community norms. AI/AN individuals continue to be affected by this history, which resonates in how victims respond to sexual assault. This can be described in part as historical trauma, the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma.” [59]

During and after colonization, legislated disempowerment and marginalization of AI/AN individuals created mistrust between tribal and non-native systems. [60] Prior to colonization, most AI/AN tribes believed that interpersonal violence was a threat to community safety, and offenders often received harsh punishments through the checks and balances in place due to complex kinship and social systems.

Colonization brought outside violence to tribal nations, including sexual assault and exploitation. AI/AN victims of sexual assault who sought medical care and emotional support — or who wanted to report to law enforcement, determine jurisdiction, or ensure offender accountability — faced poorly defined options. These historical realities continue to echo, making it difficult for AI/AN individuals to access services and for their communities to hold offenders accountable.

Roots of AI/AN Mistrust of Service Providers

SARTs should understand that mistrusting service providers has a long and deeply held history in this community. In the late 1800s through the 1960s, AI/AN children were subject to a particularly damaging policy: State agencies, courts, and private agencies removed these children from their families and tribes and sent them off reservation to “Indian Reform Schools” in the name of helping these children, but they instead faced terrible hardships from these service providers. [61] Families who refused to relinquish their children faced consequences, such as having rations withheld. [62]

Prior to the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978, native children were moved in disproportionate rates from native homes and placed in non-native foster homes. [63] In 2011, there remained reports of disproportionate rates of native children being placed in non-native foster homes. [64] This created significant mistrust of non-native individuals and organizations, particularly service providers.

AI/AN individuals may fear involvement of any authorities or may face ramifications from their community if they report an assault that results in the involvement of outside agencies and authorities.

Seeking Medical Care

AI/AN individuals have not historically had options to report sexual assault and may not have been treated well if they did. Due to a lack of options and maltreatment victims may have experienced from military personnel or law enforcement, cultural norms have developed around victim responses. For example, most AI/AN individuals who are sexually assaulted do not report to the police and instead go to a clinic for any needed medical treatment. [65]

However, seeking medical treatment also carries historical trauma for AI/AN individuals. The forced sterilization of thousands of AI/AN women at Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals in the 1970s created mistrust of medical providers, particularly around reproduction and the health and safety of women. [66] It is estimated that between 25 percent and 50 percent of native women were forcefully sterilized between 1970 and 1976. [67]

Today, victims may receive care by traditional healers, at IHS facilities, at tribal-run health centers and hospitals, at Urban Indian Health centers, or at non-native hospitals or clinics either on or off reservation. Understanding the local options and a victim’s ability to safely access those options is essential to developing relationships and protocols that support native victims.

Programs such as Tribal Forensic Healthcare [68] help tribes and non-native programs develop systems to provide medical and forensic care to AI/AN individuals. The Tribal Forensic Healthcare program involves training to improve the medical response to native persons.

Fear of Retaliation

The fear of retaliation for seeking support after an assault may be particularly acute for AI/AN victims. Inviting outside responders into the community may lead to the victim or the service provider being ostracized, particularly if the offender is subsequently arrested and removed. Since most cases do not result in the arrest and removal of the offender, the victim can be shunned merely for reporting. Bringing negative attention to the tribe may be taboo and further isolate the victim.

The offender’s status within the community, or the extent to which the community relies on that individual, may also impact a victim’s willingness to report — and the community’s reaction if the victim does. The offender may be related to the victim or hold a respectable position within the community, such as a tribal or spiritual leader, or law enforcement or village officer. In areas that have a traditional subsistence way of life, the offender may be essential in helping to gather food for the entire village. Housing is also an issue, as many families live under one roof, and the victim may lose housing for themselves and their children if they report.


SARTs should know that, due to the small, close-knit communities that AI/AN individuals generally live in, victims frequently feel that confidentiality cannot be maintained. The risk of compromising confidentiality exists for victims in all close-knit communities, but particularly in tribal communities where responders often know or are related to the victims, offenders, or both of their families. [69] Health care facilities employ tribal community members, including nurses, counselors, primary care providers, receptionists, medical records and lab personnel, and others.

Medical facilities can implement additional privacy measures, such as ensuring that the facility’s sign-up sheet does not reflect that a person is being seen for a sexual assault. To ensure confidentiality, AI/AN individuals may prefer to access services outside the tribe. [70] However, AI/AN victims may be reluctant to approach advocates in non-native centers that seem like public settings. [71]

Location and Access

AI/AN individuals also face geographic barriers to reporting sexual assault and receiving services. Geographic barriers mean distance, not having a car, the amount of gas in the car, access to gas after hours, having to ask for a ride, or lack of public transportation. Many tribal lands are located in rural areas, creating challenges for researching how to report; the area may lack cell service or offer only limited internet access. [72]

Particularly in a traumatized state following an assault, a victim may have difficulty with transportation from the location of the crime to a safe place. Merely seeking or accessing transportation may require daunting decisions for victims who forgo confidentiality. Asking for or accepting a ride after an assault may also come with confidentiality concerns as community members might wonder why a victim needs a ride.

If a victim in a remote area reports an assault, access to law enforcement or medical care may be available only by snow vehicles, boat, or helicopter. In many Alaska tribal villages, victims must pay for planes to transport them to medical facilities, which can take hours or days in some situations. Reporting a crime from a remote community may involve the traumatizing experience of transporting the victim and offender in the same confined space.

Even in communities that cover smaller geographic areas, only a limited number of vehicles may be available, and those may be unreliable. Accessing gas for these vehicles can be arduous, posing another transportation barrier.


Service providers who are not seen as part of the community, who change frequently, or who are unfamiliar inhibit victim reporting. In many tribal communities, particularly rural areas, law enforcement personnel or other service providers visit infrequently, sometimes monthly or bi-annually. This lack of regularity confounds the relationship building necessary for service providers to handle all aspects of a sexual assault investigation.

Access to Advocates

Most tribal communities do not have 24-hour crisis-intervention services for sexual assault victims. Many mainstream organizations that provide 24-hour services may not offer tribally relevant services, or their services may not be known by or available to AI/AN victims. Tribal advocates, system-based advocates, and community-based advocates may have different rules or responsibilities regarding confidentiality. Victims may not know about mainstream services or be able to contact them.

The advocacy section of the SART Toolkit contains more information about the distinctions between advocates.

Tribal Considerations

Organizations hoping to work with tribes or established SARTs can guide collaborative work by adopting a position statement respecting tribal sovereignty or including information on tribal sovereignty in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with each tribe in which the SART comes in contact.

There are 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States; each may have unique customs, traditions, resources, and geography. [73] A one-size-fits-all approach to providing meaningful services to indigenous populations does not work. Developing an MOU with representatives from your local tribe will ensure the statement is meaningful for all parties involved. The MOU can also act as a mechanism of accountability. For more information, see the Protocol and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) section of the SART Toolkit.

To develop and achieve culturally relevant services for AI/AN individuals, providers must recognize the importance of American Indian healing traditions, which vary among and within native nations.

Cultural healing traditions can be a major source of strength for many AI/AN individuals and their families. It is well known within AI/AN communities that cultural healing options are most effective in responding to trauma for members of their communities. In one instance, a hospital turned off the smoke detectors so a healing leader could perform a smudging ceremony that involved burning incense. Although this action required the approval of hospital administration and the fire marshal, it enabled the victim to connect to her culture and heal in the way she needed to help her engage with the medical and forensic exam. [74]

The Importance of an Indigenous Traditional Behavioral Health Approach provides more information about cultural healing options. [75] Traditional practices, such as naming ceremonies, talking circles, feasts, spiritual belief systems, ceremonial dress, and cohesive family and community structures, can provide victims with enormous help and support. [76]

Another part of working toward culturally relevant responses includes understanding the sovereign status of Indian nations, [77] becoming familiar with the federal trust responsibility, [78] and recognizing how cumulative historical trauma have caused unresolved pain in many AI/AN lives. [79]

It is essential to ask each tribe and individual what is important to them about the aspects of their lives. This includes learning about what practices they may have that bring them comfort and offer them options for healing. This may include spiritual beliefs, traditional practices, and faith practices. It is neither expected nor possible to know all aspects of all AI/AN cultures, and every individual has a unique relationship to their life-ways.

Considerations for Culturally Sensitive Response to American Indian or Alaskan Native Sexual Assault Victims [80] offers the following ideas:

  • Be sensitive to victims’ cultural beliefs and practices.
  • Be aware of and refer to culturally specific resources.
  • Integrate traditional healing practices into contemporary responses so victims have options for spiritual healing.
  • Recognize that victims may fear and distrust government systems.
  • Be aware and work to overcome stereotypes associated with AI/AN individuals and native women in particular.

To increase understanding of the many diverse populations in AI/AN communities, information on a few of these populations is provided below.

Alaskan Native Communities

Rates of sexual assault against Alaskan Natives are deemed the highest in the nation. Geographically, Alaska poses several challenges due to its extreme remoteness. Alaskan Native victims of sexual assault face significant barriers to reporting sexual assault, in part because of the typically small size of the village community, the interconnected and interdependent relationships within the village, the village’s remote location, and limited access to services and public safety.

A state trooper response can take days to weeks due to weather and limited resources. This delay can lead to a loss of evidence and erode a victim’s willingness to be involved with the criminal justice system. The Yupik Women’s Coalition and the Alaska Native Women's Resource Center, a new Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Tribal Technical Assistance Provider, are both working to address sexual violence against Alaskan Native victims.

Alaska SART Resources

While Alaskan Native communities experience unique barriers to service provision, these communities excel at working through difficulties.

Alaska Department of Public Safety, Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

This website provides links to current trainings related to SARTs in Alaska.

Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault provides information to support SARTs in Alaska, including trainings every six months around the state of Alaska.

American Indian/Alaska Native SANE-SART Program Initiative

The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) established the AI/AN SANE–SART Initiative in 2010 to address the comprehensive needs of tribal victims of sexual violence, with the ultimate goal of institutionalizing sustainable and evidence-based practices that meet the needs of tribal communities.

Guidelines for Community Response to Sexual Assault in Alaska (PDF, 9 pages)

This document outlines the Alaska SART Protocol.

Elder AI/AN Victims

According to the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life in its report, Reclaiming What is Sacred, indigenous communities often hold elders in a unique and important social position. Elders are mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters. They are also advisors, teachers, healers, spiritual leaders, and connectors to the past and future. [81]

Tribal elders are less likely to report or seek services than younger victims of sexual assault. Often elders do not see sexual assault services as being available to them. Elders often lack the language to describe sexual abuse. Words to describe sexual violence often did not exist within indigenous languages. This requires additional attention from responders to ensure they are not missing an elder’s request for help. Additionally, for modesty reasons, an elder may not be comfortable stating what occurred in this very personal crime.

The section on Elder Victims/Victims in Later Life in the SART Toolkit offers more information and specific resources regarding victims later in life.

Two-Spirit/LGBTQ Victims

The term “two-spirit” itself is drawn from the traditional belief that sexuality is inseparable from other aspects of life. Traditionally, to be two-spirited is to be seen as a gender other than man and woman. [82]

In some tribal communities, prior to colonization, homosexuality and fluid sexuality were accepted and celebrated. There are reports of both women and men living in same-sex marriages. Many tribes valued same-gender-loving people, and in some tribes, these individuals held a place of honor as medicine people, name givers, adoptive parents, match-makers, holy people, spiritual leaders, and others, although this varied between tribes. [83]

The term “two-spirit” will mean something different for different tribes, and it is important that SARTs understand what this means for each of the tribes in their community.

Tribal SARTs

For AI/AN communities, modern-day coordinated approaches to crime are built upon a concept that is centuries old — that of everyone working together for a common goal and for the greater good of the people. SARTs fit within this model and can provide a foundation for the response to victims of sexual assault in tribal communities.

The team approach of a SART can establish proper protocols from the outset and work to ensure that system responses operate within a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach. The SART approach is the best way to ensure there are no gaps in case processing across multiple responding practitioners.

Tribes participate in SARTs in a number of ways:

  • Developing a tribe-specific SART for their community.
  • Tribes are members of mainstream SARTs that serve both native and non-native victims.
  • Tribal SARTs partner with mainstream communities to serve non-native victims.

SARTs work best for AI/AN victims by —

  • ensuring tribal representatives are members of the SART;
  • seeking feedback from the AI/AN community and the victims of sexual assault;
  • receiving culturally relevant training by members of the local AI/AN community;
  • understanding who has investigatory jurisdiction over cases involving AI/AN victims or offenders in the geographic area covered by the SART;
  • exploring reasons AI/AN victims do not seek medical care or report their assaults; and
  • addressing those concerns within the community and organizations.

A tribal SART will have many of the same responders as a non-native SART; however, it may also include federal partners, tribal leaders, and spiritual and traditional healers, depending on jurisdictional factors. [84] The section of the SART Toolkit on jurisdiction includes more information.

For example, Public Law 280 (PL280) [85] states that if the defendant is an Indian in an area where the tribe has concurrent jurisdiction with the state, a tribal SART may include state partners such as county sheriffs, state prosecutors and district attorneys. Each SART will be different, based on the tribe itself and the corresponding responders.

Tribes are in varying stages of developing sexual assault responses. As a result, while some tribes have been responding to sexual assault for several years and have a wide range of resources and options available for victims, many tribes have limited resources developed within the tribe and may rely on non-native resources in neighboring communities.

Other tribes may be resource rich and able to share resources with neighboring communities. This requires tribes to be engaged in identifying and developing relationships with tribal and non-tribal neighbors to ensure culturally appropriate and responsive options. This also requires non-native service providers develop relationships to ensure all services and resources are being provided to all victims.

A Tribal SART May Be a Cross-Jurisdictional SART

As sovereign nations, tribes have the authority to determine who is or is not invited to participate in a tribal SART. Since the crime of sexual assault may fall under federal jurisdiction because of the Major Crimes Act, a sexual assault may be concurrently under both tribal and federal jurisdiction. [86]

In some cases, tribes have retained jurisdiction of crimes committed on tribal land perpetrated by Indian on Indian, and some tribes will prosecute these crimes. The potential for concurrent jurisdiction makes it important for tribal and federal agencies to work together on the SART. It is necessary to outline the communication and cooperation within SART protocols so that investigations are seamless and evidence is collected, protected, and transferred appropriately between agencies.

Additionally, with multiple law enforcement agencies and prosecutors involved, it is important that the victim has access to tribal community-based advocacy to ensure the victim’s voice and needs are being heard and addressed throughout the process.

Depending on a tribe’s programs, resources, and federal laws, the tribe will need to identify key practitioners and resources in developing a SART. Questions for a tribal SART to consider are outlined below.

  • Law enforcement:

    • Does the tribe fund its own law enforcement or is it funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)?
    • Does state law enforcement have jurisdiction?
    • Does the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or U.S. Attorney have jurisdiction?
  • Medical care and forensic exams:
    • Does the tribe have its own clinic or hospital?
    • Does it provide forensic exams or use Indian Health Service or a mainstream hospital?
  • Advocacy:
    • Does the tribe have its own advocacy program? Are their services confidential?
    • Does the BIA have a victim specialist available? What are their confidentiality limitations?
    • Does the FBI have a victim specialist available? What are their confidentiality limitations?
    • Does the U.S. Attorney have a victim specialist available? What are their confidentiality limitations?
  • Options for healing:
    • Does the tribe have spiritual or traditional practitioners available for sexual assault victims (often, these practitioners work closely with the advocates, which facilitates victims’ access to services)? If so, does the tribe have safety measures to ensure the spiritual or traditional practitioner is educated about sexual assault and operates in a manner that is safe for victims?
    • Does the tribe or IHS offer behavioral health or mental health services?

Confidentiality is critical to safety and trust for sexual assault victims, and SARTs need to address it. Many people believe that confidentiality in small tribal communities is impractical. However, small communities can develop precautions to help maintain confidentiality. For instance, tribes can review their policies and practices to ensure confidentiality around data privacy, data collection, and victim services, including medical care, reporting to law enforcement (tribal or other), transportation, and prosecution.

Participating in traditional culture serves as a tool for resiliency, and it may help victims through their healing process. Victims may consider continuing their participation in or renewing a connection to healing ceremonies, dances, traditional medicines, prayer songs, and other traditional activities.

Developing a SART in a Tribal Community [87]

In developing a tribal SART, it is critical that all team members respect and honor tribal sovereignty and involve tribal leadership at every step. Tribal leadership plays a critical role in sustaining any programs in a tribe. As soon as planning for a SART begins, leadership should be informed and invited. Tribal leadership can support buy-in and sustainability by advocating for the mission, approving policies, allocating resources to tribal agencies involved, and developing laws that enhance the sexual assault response.

Tribal SARTs need to be culturally specific and reflect local tradition and customs, incorporating cultural identity in its operations. This might include holding a naming ceremony for the SART, feasting at critical milestones, ensuring that victims are offered traditional supports for healing and comfort, and designing the system so critical responders have access to traditional supports.

Due to the complexity of jurisdictional issues for tribal nations, coordinating with responding agencies is essential. This could involve tribal police, BIA, FBI, sheriff’s departments, tribal prosecutors, U.S. Attorney, county or district prosecutors, and federal or state forensic labs. The SART should ensure appropriate agencies are involved and that protocols address communication and cooperation across jurisdictions to provide for a seamless response.

Incorporating a Tribe in a Mainstream SART

In many mainstream communities, one SART will support all victims of sexual assault, and it will make sense for that SART to collaborate with local tribal communities. All collaborations should ensure the tribal representative participates as an equal member of the SART and is able to advocate for the needs of tribal victims. Mainstream SARTs find that the tribal representative is an indispensable member of the team. Institutionalizing the participation of the tribe can be accomplished through MOUs and adapting the SART to be responsive to tribal needs, which may require systems change.

Working with a mainstream SART may be important for a tribe when the tribe is affected by Public Law 280 (PL280). PL280 means the tribe has concurrent jurisdiction with the state if the defendant is AI/AN. In these cases, local law enforcement will investigate the cases and the county prosecutor will prosecute the case. The tribe may also decide to investigate and prosecute the sexual assault. In these cases, the SART can offer an effective means for addressing how the state and tribe will communicate and cooperate. For more information on Public Law 280, see Legislation Affecting AI/AN Rights Related to Sexual Assault Prosecution in the SART Toolkit.

Including tribal representatives in a mainstream SART can also be effective where a significant population of the tribe resides outside tribal land. As a result of the loss of federal recognition of some tribes in the 1950s and 1960s, tribal membership dispersed, leaving tribal lands and relocating to nearby urban centers. Tribes that have large portions of their membership residing in an urban center may wish to participate in a mainstream SART to develop coordinated responses to victims of sexual assault who are members of the tribe.

In all cases of tribes working with mainstream SARTs, it is important for the SART to identify the gaps in mainstream response, and how the tribe and the SART can address those gaps. The Ramsey County Adult Sexual Assault Response Protocol provides an example of addressing gaps in responses to AI/AN victims through a mainstream SART. Developing psychological safety for all members of the team, particularly tribal members, is essential to identifying and addressing gaps.

All SARTs working with AI/AN individuals need to develop culturally appropriate outreach. Disseminating information on sexual assault and available services to AI/AN individuals can be difficult. According to Sexual Victimization in Indian Country, "The best way to disseminate information will vary across communities, but local cable access channels, local radio stations, bulletin boards in frequented offices and stores, parent-teacher meetings at schools and Head Start, public restrooms, pow-wows, and other community events are all good places to advertise.” [88]

The strategies must be realistic for the tribe or village, and the SART must recognize that what might work within a large tribe, such as the Navajo Nation, may be ineffective or unworkable in a remote Alaskan Native village. Other means of sharing information include social media and other online sources, as long as appropriate warnings are provided of the risk of offenders tracking a victim’s computer use.

Legislation Affecting AI/AN Rights Related to Sexual Assault Prosecution

One of the greatest challenges to victims, tribes, the federal government, and service providers is interpreting the various treaties and federal legislation to determine the jurisdiction of crimes related to AI/AN individuals. Responses may differ depending on what crime is committed, whether the crime is committed on Native American land or in the United States, whether the crime is committed by an AI/AN individual or by a U.S. citizen, and whether the crime is committed against a Native American or a U.S. citizen.

Depending on the circumstances of the crime, support, investigation, and prosecution may take place in tribal court, federal court, or state court. Furthermore, concurrent jurisdiction — when more than one government or court has authority over the subject matter of a case — can exist between tribal governments and either state or federal courts.

This section of the SART Toolkit does not provide legal advice about local jurisdictions, but it does introduce some of the complexities of determining jurisdiction. The goal is to raise awareness of the steps necessary to provide appropriate services for AI/AN victims. Since this area of law is complicated, service providers who have questions regarding cases arising from Indian Country are encouraged to contact Indian law practitioners or tribal attorneys to clarify any jurisdictional issues.

In some cases, the difficulty of determining criminal jurisdiction, particularly when there are concurrent jurisdictions, translates into blurred jurisdictional boundaries, untimely action, or no action at all. SARTs can proactively determine jurisdiction for crimes against AI/AN individuals in or near their communities.

At a minimum, the SART can identify who can determine jurisdiction and cultivate a relationship to ensure timely response. SARTs can codify this information in protocols to ensure consistent responses to crimes against AI/AN individuals, particularly in cases where a victim wants to report to law enforcement. Developing a clear understanding of local jurisdiction with the tribal nation is one way to foster relationships and processes that protect AI/AN victims.

The Major Crimes Act of 1885 granted federal courts jurisdiction (the official power to make legal decisions and judgments) over certain major crimes such as rape and murder committed by an AI/AN individual against another AI/AN individual on Native American land. Tribes also retain concurrent jurisdiction over some of these crimes. These laws introduced jurisdictional challenges and power dynamics between service providers, and developed a legacy of distrust among AI/AN and non-AI/AN communities that continues to affect victims and service providers today.

The federal government has criminal authority over tribal lands unless Congress has enacted legislation to allocate that authority to states. In 1953, Congress passed Public Law 83-280 (PL 280), which transferred federal criminal jurisdiction and civil adjudicatory jurisdiction to six mandatory states (Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin) [89] for offenses committed by or against Native Americans on tribal land. PL 280 also explains the civil adjudicatory jurisdiction in actions to which Native Americans are party.

For instance, tribes have the authority to regulate their own affairs and create laws within their territory, including laws with which non-Native Americans must comply. The U.S. Department of Justice 689 Jurisdictional Summary chart [90] is a valuable resource for clarifying jurisdictional boundaries, including PL 280 Tribes. Public Law 280: Issues and Concerns for Victims of Crime in Indian Country provides additional summary information.

In 1968, Congress amended PL 280 to require consent from tribes located in states seeking to assume PL 280 jurisdiction, and it authorized retrocession upon a state’s request and a tribe’s consent. [91] More than 30 partial or full retrocessions have occurred.

Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 to address civil rights on tribal land and impose sentencing and fine limitations for tribal governments to prosecute defendants. The Constitution’s protections for individual liberties, embodied in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere, do not apply to tribal governments, which, among other things, created a gap of authority for prosecuting crimes, including sexual assault. [92]

The 2013 S.1925, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization Act, includes provisions for tribal governments to protect Native American women, including the possibility for tribes to have jurisdiction over non-AI/AN perpetrators in certain cases. Title IX, Safety for Native Women, VAWA 2013, and tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, and criminal violations of protection orders will help to clarify VAWA and its impact on AI/AN women and men.

The Implementation chart of VAWA, developed in June 2016, shows which tribes are implementing or plan to assert their jurisdictional authority over non-Indian perpetrators. [93] The Tribal Implementation of VAWA resource center explains the process.

As in other areas of the law, Native American nations are beginning to assert the full jurisdiction of their tribal courts and are developing increasingly sophisticated laws and codes in addition to their traditional forms of self-governance. Thus, in a few places on tribal land, both federal and tribal laws apply. A full list of Tribal Codes can be found at the Tribal Court Clearing House and the National Indian Law Library.

Jurisdictional Considerations

Many factors must be considered when determining jurisdiction. Collaboration between tribes and federal and state jurisdictions is required to establish appropriate protocols for notification of a crime and jurisdictional transfer proactively. A General Guide to Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country is an informed resource for tribes and non-AI/AN programs working with tribes. [94]

Improving the Relationship Between Indian Nations, the Federal Government, and State Governments by Jerry Gardner of the Tribal Court Clearing House explains the unique sovereign status of Indian nations and examines contemporary problems between Indian nations and state and federal governments. The article also includes information on the potential use of written cooperative agreements, such as MOUs, and practical tips for developing and implementing them.

When sexual assault occurs in Indian Country, the law enforcement response could include tribal police, state or local law enforcement, the BIA, or the FBI. In some cases, the difficulty of determining criminal jurisdiction, particularly when there may be concurrent jurisdictions, can be confounding.

Resources for Determining Jurisdiction

689. Jurisdictional Summary

Developed by the DOJ Office of Attorneys, this chart explains which government entity has jurisdiction in certain situations.

Safety for Native Women

Developed by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, this for-sale resource is used by many tribal programs to understand jurisdictional complexities.

Tribal Justice and Safety Department of the Department of State

This department was developed to address high rates of violence against AI/AN women.

Walking on Common Ground

This site facilitates and provides resources on tribal-state-federal collaborations.

Future Legislation

To address what tribal justice looks like, it is important to identify what crimes Native Amercan law enforcement can respond to and tribes are able to prosecute. The National Congress of American Indians acknowledges the importance of regularly collecting more in-depth data for developing effective policy solutions. Policy Insights Brief Statistics on Violence Against Native Women demonstrates the need for a policy framework with funded, enforceable regulations and tribal authority to protect American Indian/Alaskan Native women.

Resources for Tribal SARTS

AI/AN Sexual Assault Response Team Model (PDF, 1 page)

This flowchart, by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), provides a visual of how OVC plans to enhance AI/AN communities’ capacity.

Alcohol-Facilitated Sexual Assault in Indian Country: Services and Support for Victims (multimedia, 7:12)

This video by OVC provides information on sexual assault in Indian Country, particularly related to alcohol.

Building Relationships and Resources with Tribal Communities (PDF, 20 pages)

This issue of Connections, a bi-annual publication by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, focuses on tribal communities.

Important Clarifications Regarding Title IX (PDF, 2 pages)

These talking points provide clarification around the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Title IX as they relate to Native American women.

Legal Barriers to Safety, Justice & Services for Native Women (PowerPoint Presentation)

This presentation for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center Webinar Training Series discusses in-depth the legal barriers for Native American women, covering safety from sexual assault; justice in tribal, federal, and state systems; and services designed for and by tribal women based on tribal beliefs and practices.

Maze of Injustice (PDF, 112 pages)

This Amnesty International report covers the failure to protect Indigenous women in the United States from sexual violence.

Overview: Tribal Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy (PDF, 7 pages)

This resource from Red Wind Consulting, Inc. details the role of the sexual assault victim advocate and the benefits this position offers the community and each practitioner.

Report to the U.S. Attorney General on Improving Federal Agency Response to Sexual Violence in Tribal Nations: Issues and Recommendations (PDF, 37 pages)

This 2014 report includes recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the federal system’s response to sexual assault in tribal nations and to ensure progress will be institutionalized.

Sex Offender Registration and Notification

This tool can be used to help with offender accountability. DOJ has established the Tribal Access Program to provide tribal jurisdictions with access to federal crime information databases. This program is informed by tribes, pueblos, and nations working to implement SORNA and by the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART)'s commitment to resolving the information-sharing issues brought to its attention by tribal jurisdictions.

Violence Against American Indian And Alaska Native Women and Men: 2010 Findings from The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (multimedia, 58:23)

This webinar discusses the results of a 2010 survey on violence against AI/AN individuals.

Resources for AI/AN Victims

Healing Journey for Alaska Native Victims

This video series by OVC is for service providers who work with Alaskan Native victims and increases awareness, identifies first responders, describes challenges faced, and more.

This video provides an overview of the challenges victims face when pursuing safety and justice in Alaska.

This video focuses on community-driven responses to victims in Alaska villages.

This video illustrates the multidisciplinary approach that brings together a range of professions to ensure timely, comprehensive, and victim-centered responses.

This video highlights holistic and community-based approaches to victims and offenders.

Pathways to Healing: Tribal Resources (PDF, 48 pages)

This is a list of tribal resources developed by the Cowlitz Tribe Pathways to Healing and may be helpful to service providers working with victims or service providers who wish to do outreach in their communities.

Tribal Jurisdiction Resources

Analysis of Cities and Towns Inside Reservations (PDF, 25 pages)

The analysis by the National Congress of American Indians includes the overall population, both Indian and non-Indian, living in towns and cities inside reservations, as well as square mileage. Hundreds of towns and cities within the boundaries of reservations are predominantly populated by non-Indians.

National Map of Federally Recognized Tribes

This page by the National Conference of State Legislators shows Indian land as well as contacts for regional Indian program managers and coordinators.

Sexual Assault in Indian Country — A Fight for Sovereignty (multimedia, 7:57)

This video by Homespun Pictures examines the ongoing fight for sovereignty for Native Americans and the importance of recognizing the sovereignty of tribes and developing a clear understanding of jurisdiction to support victims, hold offenders accountable, and protect communities.

Historical Trauma Resources

Historical Trauma and Unresolved Grief: Implications for Clinical Research and Practice with Indigenous Peoples of the Americas (PDF, 43 pages)

This presentation from the Indian Health Service explains historical trauma and healing in relation to Native Americans.

How Do People Experience Historical Trauma? (multimedia, 6:07)

This video by the University of Minnesota Extension Children, Youth and Family Consortium addresses historical trauma specific to Native Americans.

Response to Tribal Sexual Assault Resources

American Indian Health

This site by American Indian and Alaska Native Health provides a collection of resources about the use of traditional healing options.

Considerations for Culturally Sensitive Response to American Indian or Alaskan Native Sexual Assault Victims (PDF, 4 pages)

This resource by Red Wind Consulting, Inc. helps service providers respond to victims in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner, based on an awareness of the tribe’s history and historic trauma.

How Being Trauma-Informed Improves Criminal Justice System Responses (PDF, 3 pages)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation presents this fact sheet on historical trauma and trauma-informed criminal justice responses.

Promising Practices in Tribal Community Policing (PDF, 84 pages)

This resource by DOJ Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program provides information on tribal community policing strategies, as well as evaluation and sustainability for these programs.

The Importance of a Traditional Indigenous Behavioral Health Approach (PDF, 9 pages)

This report by Red Wind Consulting, Inc. discusses why service providers should incorporate traditional indigenous health care for AI/AN victims.

Safety and Accountability Audit (PDF, 73 pages)

Mending the Sacred Hoop conducted a collaborative process of examining the system’s response to reported rapes of Native American women in Duluth, Minn.

Tips for Non-Native Medical Providers Working in Alaska Native Communities (PDF, 4 pages)

This resource by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute offers practical tips for service providers working with American Indian victims.

Tribal Coordinated Community Response Worksheet (PDF, 1 page)

This tool by Red Wind Consulting, Inc. helps tribes think about traditional coordinated responses as they identify their current practitioners involved in addressing sexual assault within their tribe or village.

Tribal Equity Toolkit: Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit and LGBT Justice in Indian Country (PDF, 121 pages)

A collaboration of the Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, the Western States Center, the Pride Foundation, and Basic Rights Oregon developed this toolkit for tribal lawmakers and committees, staff, and community members to assist in drafting and enacting tribal laws.

Sample Guidelines/Protocols for Indian Country

Assessment Tool for AI/AN Communities Drafting/Revising a Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examination Protocol for Adults/Adolescent Victims (PDF, 11 pages)

This tool by Red Wind Consulting, Inc. is adapted from End Violence Against Women International’s SARRT Assessment Tool for Rural and Remote Communities/Regions. SARRT: A Guide for Rural and Remote Communities can also be helpful in preparing to draft your SART protocol.

Guidelines for Community Response to Sexual Assault in Alaska (PDF, 9 pages)

This guide from Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault provides a framework for developing, training, and implementing community sexual assault response in Alaska.

Indian Health Services Chapter 29 Sexual Assault

This website provided by the Indian Health Service and the Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives provides guidelines for facilities to follow when responding to a sexual assault.

Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan Sexual Assault Response Team Policy and Protocol (PDF, 26 pages)

This tribal SART protocol can serve as an example for developing policies.

Sexual Assault Response Teams: Resource Guide for the Development of a Sexual Assault Response Team in Tribal Communities (PDF, 124 pages)

This manual by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute provides guidance on protocol development, sustainability, and development of tribal SARTs.

A Victim-Centered Approach to Sexual Violence Against Native Women: Resource Guide for Drafting Sexual Assault Law Enforcement Protocols (PDF, 91 pages)

This guide developed by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute includes a tribal law enforcement sexual assault model protocol.

American Indian/Alaskan Native Technical Assistance Providers

American Indian Resource Center’s Institute for Native Justice

This institute trains tribal advocates and law enforcement, using the foundational strategies of safety, ethics, and sustainability.

Indian Health Council, Inc.

This council is dedicated to the continual betterment of Indian health, wholeness, and well-being.

Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

This department seeks to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaskan Natives to the highest level.

Indian Law Resource Center

This center provides legal assistance to AI/AN nations that are working to protect their lands, resources, human rights, environment, and cultural heritage.

Mending the Sacred Hoop Technical Assistance Project

This organization improves the safety of American Indian women who experience battering, sexual assault, and stalking by offering training, technical assistance, and resource materials that specifically address violence against AI/AN women.

National American Indian Court Judges Association

This association supports AI/AN justice systems through education, information sharing, and advocacy. Its membership is primarily judges, justices, and peacemakers serving in tribal justice systems. The site offers publications, tribal codes, tribal constitutions, court opinions, and links to tribal organizations.

National Congress of American Indians

This organization provides a better understanding of tribal nations, their history, and their governments today.

National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College

NCJTC offers technical assistance on topics such as child sex trafficking, community policing, and sex offender management.

National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault

This organization provides tools for teams working in Indian Country and discusses the formal and informal cooperative partnerships . Also visit the National Indian County Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault (NISCCSA) SART web page.

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

This center helps AI/AN tribes, Native Hawaiians, and tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations in their responses to interpersonal violence.

Red Wind Consulting, Inc.

This organization works to strengthen tribal programs and native organizations' ability to develop and enhance local responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking through training and tribal technical assistance. Red Wind has a National Tribal Advocate Center that provides semi-annual, 40-hour Tribal Sexual Assault Advocate Training and 24-hour tribal SART coordinator training.


This unique model of health care for AI/AN communities draws upon the strength and resilience of Indigenous women to put an end to sexual assault while also providing compassionate and holistic care for women and adolescent victims.


The Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Technical Assistance (SAFEta) project is designed to provide technical guidance for individuals and agencies using the National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations of Adults/Adolescents from the DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

Sex Trafficking Resources for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Tribal Coalitions

Using tribal codes and federal and state laws, this organization provides support when navigating sex trafficking issues in Indian Country.

Southwest Center for Law and Policy

This center provides training and technical assistance to OVW grantees that serve AI/AN victims.

Title IX Safety for Indian Women (PDF, 23 pages)

This resource explains the unique legal relationship of the United States to Indian tribes and creates a federal trust responsibility to assist tribal governments in safeguarding the lives of Indian women.

Tribal Law and Policy Institute

The TLPI works in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to provide training and technical assistance for tribes. The TLPI also offers a Tribal Sexual Assault and Stalking Resource Series, available on its website.

Tribal Leader Directory

This directory from the U.S. Department of the Interior, BIA, can help users identify and form connections with tribes. The website provides an interactive map that can help to locate contact information for a tribe.

Tribal Women’s Shelters

This website maintained by the National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault can help identify a Native American-specific advocacy program or shelter near you.

Unified Solutions Tribal Community Development Group, Inc.

Unified Solutions provides training and technical assistance for individuals or organizations that work to end interpersonal violence, sexual assault, and other violent crime.

Asian and Pacific Islanders (API)

SARTs should be aware that broad generalizations about the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community are difficult and often inaccurate because of the U.S.’s classification of this diverse and disparate group of people.

The Asian and Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (API-GBV) uses the term “Asian and Pacific Islander” to include all peoples of Asian, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions, and the diasporic communities of these geographic regions. [95]

In the United States, the Census Bureau has historically grouped “Asian and Pacific Islanders” together using a very broad brush, cutting across many countries and cultures. For instance, the Census Bureau groups peoples from countries as disparate as Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

Further complicating this grouping is the wide disparity of actual ties to the country of descent among persons described as API. These individuals can be fifth-generation Americans, like the gosei of Japanese descent, who have only tangential ties or understanding of Japanese culture, but APIs can also be those who have recently arrived to the United States and have strong linguistic and cultural ties to their country of origin.

APIs in the U.S. use this term and identity as part of an evolving process of self-determination and identification in American culture. [96] APIs live their lives with a unique cultural perspective, even if they speak English as their only or primary language; SARTs should offer services with this cultural perspective in mind.

It is always a best practice to ask individual victims what their needs are and to honor those individual needs. This section serves as an introduction to some factors that may contribute to individual experiences or histories that may impact victimization, reporting, or receiving support services for sexual assault.

The Pacific Islands include countries and U.S. territories such as Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Guam, Tonga, Republic of Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Hawai’i, Samoa, and Tonga.

The April 2018 factsheet, Pacific Islanders and Domestic & Sexual Violence, provides a compilation of information on Pacific Islander diversity and identities including resources for Pacific Islander survivors and advocates. This resource seeks to generate awareness about the frequently overlooked Pacific Islander community.

Countries in Asia include the following:

  • Afghanistan
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Brunei
  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Cyprus
  • East Timor
  • Egypt
  • Georgia
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Laos
  • Lebanon
  • Malaysia
  • Maldives
  • Mongolia
  • Myanmar
  • Nepal
  • North Korea
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Qatar
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Sri Lanka
  • Syria
  • Tajikistan
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam
  • Yemen

API Immigrant Communities

Immigrants from Asia represent a growing proportion of overall immigration to the United States. In 2015, 5 of the top 10 largest groups to immigrate to the United States were from Asia — China, India, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam. [97] Sixty-six percent of Asian-Americans are foreign-born, and many speak languages other than English. [98]

According to 2011 U.S. census data, there are 2.9 million Mandarin and Cantonese speakers, 1.4 million Vietnamese speakers, and 1.1 million Korean speakers living in the United States. [99] SARTs interacting with these API communities should know they may need to provide language assistance.

Of the more recent immigrants, a significant number of refugees have arrived in the United States from Asia, prompting SARTs to be aware of possible historical trauma that would affect how victims of sexual assault from these communities would interact with service providers. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “[r]efugees are generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm.” [100]

According to statistics from the Department of State Office of Admissions Refugee Processing Center on refugee admissions by region from 1975 to the present (as of March 31, 2017), almost 1.5 million refugees have been admitted to the United States from Asia. [101] This represents 43.7 percent of the total number of refugees admitted. The inclusion of those in the category of “Near East/South Asia” would drive these numbers still higher (an additional almost 0.5 million refugees).

When discussing API immigrant communities, it is essential to be aware of the multitude of realities, including those related to foreign national status, territory status, and language access. For more information, see the Foreign National, U.S. Territory Resources, and Meeting Needs for Language Assistance sections of the SART Toolkit.

Sexual Assault Underreported in the API Community

Sexual assault is underreported in the API community. Sexual assault across diverse communities is identified differently, discussed differently, and often not discussed or reported at all. In fact, estimated numbers of unreported rapes and sexual assaults are more than 50 percent. [102]

Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders experience sexual assault victimization at a rate of 0.4 per 1,000 people, but only 36.6 percent of rape or sexual assault victimizations of Asian victims were reported to police. [103]

These are some of the reasons for the high number of unreported sexual assaults:

  • Shame
  • Threats
  • Not being believed
  • Racism
  • Cultural taboos
  • Homophobia
  • Transphobia
  • Fear of blame and unwarranted consequences
  • Mistrust of the judicial system

Many API individuals experience sexual assault by known offenders or in the context of intimate partner violence (IPV). By understanding the prevalence and connection of intimate partner violence to sexual assault, SARTs can better serve victims in API communities.

Facts & Stats Report: Domestic Violence in Asian & Pacific Islander Homes provides culturally specific information on intimate partner violence in API communities to U.S. citizens, including first or second generation and API foreign nationals living in the United States and U.S. territories.

Obstacles to Reporting or Seeking Help for Sexual Assault

When API individuals experience sexual assault, familial and cultural norms may affect how and if a person reports. Families and clans may play a strong role in API individuals’ cultural norms.

For many people in API communities, sex and sexuality are rarely discussed between parents and children, let alone with strangers. In some API communities, family problems stay hidden in families or clans with the expectation those problems will be resolved in those units. The family unit is typically hierarchical, putting men at the head of the household and clan. Many sexual assaults in the API community happen concurrently with domestic violence, but gender roles and ideas about patriarchy and male privilege give fathers and husbands the right to define and resolve these conflicts, including muffling voices of victims. [104]

As a result, many API victims who have experienced sexual assault and seek services for domestic violence never mention the extent of the sexual assault they have endured. Victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault may not be aware of the adverse health consequences, particularly if an intimate partner imposes harm.

APIs, and immigrant communities in general, tend to underutilize mental health and other social services in America. [105] Taboos tend to keep API victims of sexual assault silent, leaving the victim, instead of the assailant, to bear the shame of the assault. In East Asian cultures, “loss of face,” in which disgrace is assigned to the victim and the victim’s entire family and lineage, is a strong deterrent to reporting. Feelings of shame may bar victims from seeking help unless a first responder directs them to do so. Service providers may need to explain confidentiality in detail to API victims who are navigating receiving support without bringing shame or stigma to their families.

API individuals who also identify as LGBTQ face a culture that is less open to their dual minority role, which inhibits reporting because disclosing sexual assault could bring out the individual’s LGBTQ identity. A study found that “gay API men exhibited higher levels of vertical collectivism (where hierarchy is emphasized, and people submit to authorities to the point of self-sacrifice), stronger endorsement of traditional Asian values, and a greater desire to maintain a private gay identity.” [106]

Institutional racism, especially “the model minority myth” contributes to the lack of linguistic and culturally sensitive service provision for APIs. The “model minority myth” disseminates the view that Asian Americans have “made it.” This clouds “the fact that there are many social problems in the Asian American communities, and as a result, such problems tend to be ignored.” [107]

A lack of language access or staff and advocates who represent diverse communities deters API community members from seeking support following an assault. When individuals who identify as API are sexually assaulted in the United States, not only do they deal with the trauma of being sexually assaulted, but they also grapple with what to do next, many times without the help of culturally sensitive or language-trained resources. Without these resources, questions such as these never get answered:

  • “What should I do?”
  • “Is help available?”
  • “What does help look like?”
  • “How do I access that help?”

API Individuals and HIV

In API communities, the taboo of discussing sexual health as well as the prevalence of gender inequalities may influence an individual’s vulnerability to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. [108]

API individuals who have experienced intimate partner violence are at risk for HIV infection; 86 percent of API women living with HIV were infected through unprotected sex with a male partner. [109] API individuals are less likely to seek testing than women of other races and ethnicities, receiving only 17 percent of testing. [110] Of API women who believe they are at risk, only 5 percent have sought testing. [111] Violence or the fear of violence may deter women from seeking HIV testing, prevent disclosure of their status, and delay treatment. [112]

By being aware of these risks, SARTs working with API victims of sexual assault can seek culturally responsive ways to discuss safety, prevention, testing, treatment, and disclosure. For more information on living with HIV, see the HIV-Affected Communities section of the SART Toolkit.

How Best to Support an API Immigrant and Refugee Victim

The experience of being sexually assaulted is traumatic for anyone. Being sexually assaulted in a country that is foreign to a victim can cause even more distress due to unfamiliarity with system responses.

Immigrant and refugee victims may wonder what is going on or what will happen. For example, advocates who accompanied API immigrant and refugee victims during SART forensic exams report being asked, “Where am I? Is this a government facility?” when the victim is in fact at a SART center based at a hospital.

Explain the Victim’s Decisions

One of the most important aspects of empowering an API immigrant and refugee victim is to fully explain what decisions the survivor has at different points in the process in their language and in a way that makes sense to the individual victim.

The relationship service providers have as a SART, including what information may be shared, should also be explained. Victims should be made aware that engaging in the system — such as reporting, receiving an exam, working with an advocate, or receiving other aspects of support — is voluntary. Effective communication can empower victims and build trust in the system response. Some victims will seek to understand in great detail and ask many questions, while others might want limited information.

In one instance, a victim asked the sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) before the exam what the nurse was going to do with the evidence she was collecting. Through a trained, certified interpreter, the SANE explained that the evidence would be put away and, if the victim chose, law enforcement could access the kit as part of an investigation. In this case, the offender was the victim’s husband whom she had recently moved to the United States to marry; she did not want the exam to continue or the evidence to be collected. The SANE, sensitive to the victim’s feelings, broke the swabs in half in front of the victim and threw them in the trash. The SANE validated and empowered the victim by honoring the decision she felt was right for her. [113]

Discuss Realistic Outcomes

It is important to help API immigrant and refugee victims understand realistic outcomes. Victims who choose to undergo a sexual assault exam may expect that full cooperation means the justice system will automatically hold the offender accountable. Accountability may mean different things to different victims. When an API immigrant and refugee victim is involved with systems, it is important to share openly and honestly and define terms used, as those terms might mean something else to the victim.

In API communities, as in many racially and culturally diverse communities, allegations of domestic or sexual violence may divide the community, especially if the community is tight-knit. Some people may side with the survivor while others side with the offender. Special care should be taken to protect the survivor’s privacy while balancing the need to address what is happening with family members and the larger community.

Advocate involvement is essential if the case moves into police investigation or criminal prosecution, as these processes may be stressful and confusing. Decisions by prosecutors to plea bargain or by courts who fail to convict may undermine the survivor’s — and the community’s — belief in the fairness of law enforcement and justice systems in the United States. In these cases, a “not guilty” verdict may invoke a sense of regret for having caused a disturbance in the community without an outcome that holds the offender accountable.

Outreach to the API Community

For SARTs to better serve API victims of sexual assault, the survivor’s need for basic things like transportation and housing should be considered. Many API immigrant and refugee sexual assault victims have little support in the way of family and friends. This may mean that, after enduring a sexual assault and undergoing a forensic exam, the victim may have no safe place to go. It is not uncommon for API organizations to help victims access motel vouchers as a temporary means of providing somewhere for the victim to stay.

SARTs should partner with a local or national organization that focuses on the API population. When reaching out to an API-specific organization, keep the following in mind:

  • API organizations that do not address sexual assault or domestic violence may not be willing to put these issues at the forefront of their work, given the taboos and shame surrounding the topic. If they are willing, SARTs can train API organization staff and volunteers to identify domestic and sexual violence and begin talking with victims to connect them with services and provide ongoing support.
  • Dedicate time to relationship building and be patient. API communities are very relational. If SARTs are able to find a respected figure within the community, such as a community leader or elder, they may be able to give voice to issues the community is generally reluctant to discuss.
  • The idea of MOUs or other contractual agreements can be insulting if discussed at a first or second meeting. Rather, tokens of friendship, such as food, can signal an interest in building relationships with individuals and the community. Food often brings people together in API communities, and it is common to bring fresh fruit or pastries to a friend’s home every time one visits.
  • Consider where API immigrants and refugees gather in your community. Is it at the church, mosque, or temple? A local community center? Would building a relationship there help you gain insight into the needs of the community and how to best support victims of sexual assault? Be aware that broaching the issue of sexual assault will be sensitive, and be prepared to talk about the issue in a non-direct manner that will not feel off-putting or offensive. For example, a service provider might initially share what their role is but talk about other topics during most meetings. As trust in the relationship builds, people will feel more comfortable discussing difficult topics.
  • Understand cultural realities surrounding sexual health, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. Seek to understand what concerns most affect API victims of sexual assault, even when those concerns may be collateral, such as housing for refugee or immigrant victims or HIV screening and support in cases where victims are reporting intimate partner violence.

Additionally, SARTs can ensure all needs of API immigrants are met by offering victims follow-up services (counseling, court accompaniment) with advocates who can speak their language and explain what is happening. Having advocates who can speak the victim’s language offers a level of comfort that is invaluable.

As mainstream rape crisis centers consider how to be more culturally responsive to API immigrant and refugee victims, developing a language access plan may help facilitate communication. Having SART advocates who can access language interpretation for API immigrant and refugee victims can help connect them to additional services that may help them heal from the trauma of sexual assault. For more information, see the Meeting Needs for Language Assistance section in the SART Toolkit.

API Resources

Pacific Islanders and Domestic & Sexual Violence

This 2018 factsheet from the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence compiles statistics on domestic violence, sexual violence, trafficking, and help-seeking in Pacific Islander communities.

Sexual Violence in Asian and Pacific Islander Communities (PDF, 6 pages)

This 2018 factsheet from the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence provides statistics on sexual violence in Asia and the U.S., child sexual abuse, sexual abuse among young adults, and more.

API Technical Assistance Providers

Turn to the following organizations for expertise in API populations and support in your casework, community outreach, program development, and more.

Asian American Net

Asian American Net promotes and strengthens cultural, educational, and commercial ties between Asia and North America and includes links to Asian American organizations and immigration resources.

Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence

This is a useful clearinghouse of information on services to API victims of gender-based violence (including domestic violence and sexual assault). Although API-GBV does not provide direct services, their resources can be a starting point for learning more about options for culturally relevant services to API victims.

Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum

This forum promotes policy, program, and research efforts to improve the health and well-being of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander communities.

Asian and Pacific Islander Communities

The National Organization of Asians and Pacific Islanders Ending Sexual Violence (NAPIESV) offers a breakdown of the diverse ethnic identities that make up the API communities.

Asian Women's Shelter

Asian Women’s Shelter provides peer-to-peer support to organizations in the United States that are focused on domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and stalking. Asian Women's Shelter also has developed models for multilingual advocacy and community building that include queer and transgender communities.


ASISTA provides technical assistance on complex questions arising in immigration cases for domestic violence and sexual assault victims (offered exclusively to OVW grantees) and offers resources and information through an online clearinghouse.

Center for the Pacific Asian Family

Located in Los Angeles, Calif., this agency is specifically dedicated to providing services to API immigrants. As one of California’s rape crisis centers, CPAF is positioned to address the issue of sexual assault among API communities in a culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible manner.

Directory of Domestic and Gender Violence Programs Serving Asians and Pacific Islanders (PDF, 181 pages)

Although not every organization in this directory, published by API-GBV, has programs designed to address sexual assault, the profile page for each agency clarifies what programs and services are offered, as well as the particular ethnic communities served and the language capacity of the agency.

Manavi, Inc.

Manavi concentrates on the issue of violence against women in the South Asian immigrant community. Although Manavi is located and works with South Asian women who reside in New Jersey, its focus is also national and international.


Narika seeks to address the unmet needs of abused South Asian women by providing advocacy, support, information, and referrals within a culturally sensitive model.

National Organization of Asians and Pacific Islanders Ending Sexual Violence

NAPIESV is a national organization established by API anti-sexual assault advocates to give voice to the experiences of API women and girls who are victims of sexual assault. NAPIESV’s goal is to provide technical assistance to culturally and linguistically specific organizations that are serving or attempting to serve victims of sexual assault in API communities.

National Center for Cultural Competence

This center increases the capacity of health and mental health programs to design, implement, and evaluate culturally and linguistically competent service delivery systems.

National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault

This organization ensures that systems-wide policies and social change initiatives related to sexual assault are informed by input and direction from women of color.

Pacific Asian Language Services

Pacific Asian Language Services provides and trains health care interpreters and translators.


SAKHI empowers women, particularly victims of domestic violence, and strives to create a voice and safe environment for all South Asian women through outreach, advocacy, leadership development, and organizing.

­­Latin@/x/Hispanic Communities

Members of the Latin@/x/Hispanic communities are a highly diverse group who identify several ways. [114] Hispanic includes anyone with Spanish-speaking origins, including Spain and excluding Brazil. Latino is traditionally used to describe individuals from Latin American origin, excluding Spain and including Brazil where Portuguese is spoken. The terms are often used incorrectly and interchangeably, as one describes race and the other ethnicity.

The language is also constantly evolving. Some subscribe to traditional and conservative ways of identifying, using the traditionally gendered language such as “a” in Latina for the feminine and “o” in Latino for the masculine. In recent years, the use of “@” in Latin@ has been adopted to be more inclusive versus using one or the other. With the addition of “x” in Latinx (La-teen-ex), even more opportunities exist for creating inclusive resources and meeting community needs.

Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative to Latino, Latina, and even Latin@. For this reason, Latin@/x will be used throughout this document. When working with victims, the best practice is to ask what language they prefer.

Latin@/x can be those who speak the Spanish language, those that speak some Spanish language, those who speak no Spanish language, those who are native English speakers, or those who speak Portuguese. As language and culture are deeply connected, culturally relevant work encompasses far more than providing resources and support services in Spanish, English, or Portuguese.

A culturally relevant approach considers the culture as well as the language. Second- and third-generation Latin@s/x may continue to live their lives with a unique cultural perspective, even if they speak English as their only or primary language; all elements of service provision should be done with a cultural perspective in mind.

In addition to unique linguistic experiences, Latin@s/x living in the United States have a variety of experiences of colonization and immigration, including naturalization, lifelong citizenship, or living in a U.S. territory. Each of their experiences differ, and needs of individuals who lived these experiences is unique because of cultural and contextual factors.

According to 2014 American Community Survey data, 17 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic/Latin@, based on the 2010 census definition of “Hispanic or Latino” referring to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” [115] Of those, 64 percent were of Mexican heritage, 9.5 percent were of Puerto Rican heritage, 3.7 percent were of Cuban heritage, 3.7 percent Salvadoran, 3.3 percent Dominican, and 2.4 percent Guatemalan. The remainder was of some other Central American, South American, or other Hispanic or Latino origin. [116]

Approximately 60.6 million people residing in the United States speak a language other than English at home, and of those residents, 62 percent speak Spanish. [117]

For more information on serving Latin@/x communities, see the links below:

  • Culture and Language
  • Services for Latin@/x Victims
  • Child Abuse in the Latin@/x Community
  • Outreach and Including Latin@/x Voices in the SART
  • Latin@/x Community Resources

Culture and Language

Culture is “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” [118] Culture has been broadly defined as the human-made part of the environment, including material and subjective elements of culture. [119] Culture refers to learned behavior patterns.

Language is “the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.” [120] It is essentially a method of communicating a culture. The Spanish language has a pre-Christian era Iberian Latin history that almost faced extinction following foreign invasions, but recovered, and today is the official language of 21 countries.

Although language and culture are defined separately, they exist together and inform one another. When resources are created for a particular culture, ensuring that information is created from a cultural context is the most important step to respectful and responsive communication. Only then can it be provided in the language of that culture. This ensures that communication resonates with all members of the community and is effective. Whatever is created from a cultural context should then be made available in that cultural language and English to meet the needs of all members of the community.

Failure to understand the cultural values of victims that identify as Latin@/x can have adverse results for victims of sexual violence. For example, service providers and other professionals can improve service provision by recognizing the importance of familismo, the dedication, commitment, loyalty to, and interconnectedness within family, and its significance in the Latin@/x community. [121] Latin@/x victims of sexual violence require a culturally relevant approach from service providers that acknowledges the role of familismo in victim recovery.

Although many Latin@s/x speak Spanish, it is important to note that language evolves over time, and Spanish is equally as diverse as the individuals who are considered Latin@s/x. Between 550 and 700 languages are spoken in the Americas, and some Latin@s/x, particularly those from indigenous communities in South America, may only speak indigenous languages. In Guatemala alone, there are more than 50 living languages, 23 of which are recognized as national languages, with 52.8 percent of the people speaking pre-Columbian languages. [122]

Although 99 percent of Brazilians speak Portuguese, some communities in Brazil speak native languages, such as Tupinambá, and some immigrant communities speak languages including Polish, Italian, Ukrainian, and Japanese. [123]

By heightening their awareness of the linguistic diversity that exists in Latin@/x communities, SARTs can enhance their provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate, trauma-informed, victim-centered services.

“Spanish” resources hardly begin to cover the cultural needs for such a diverse community. When linguistic services are available through SARTs, they may emphasize Spanish and neglect other languages that Latin@/x victims speak. With regard to forensic exams, Latin@s/x may encounter a lack of local interpretation services, a lack of bilingual medical personnel, and a lack of written materials in languages other than English and Spanish.

To increase accessibility for victims who speak Spanish, other languages similar to Spanish, or variations or dialects of Spanish, SARTs should seek an interpreter who speaks the same language or the same cultural Spanish as the victim.

Services for Latin@/x Victims

Individuals who identify as Latin@/x can be U.S. citizens born in this country, or immigrants from a Latin American country, both with appropriate or inadequate documentation to reside in the United States. To many, the United States is the country they regard as their home. Although many individuals are second- and third-generation immigrants, all carry with them the history of oppression, racism, and colonization passed on from generation to generation.

This section of the SART Toolkit attempts to introduce readers to some topics that may impact Latin@/x victims, with the acknowledgement that these do not affect all Latin@/x victims. Nothing replaces the importance of every service provider asking each individual survivor what their needs are throughout every interaction.

Poverty, political instability, and financial crisis provide a challenging life in many Latin American countries. Immigrants and refugees may seek more stable living conditions in other countries, including the United States. Some individuals flee precarious situations in their native countries. Many Latin@/x individuals encounter stark dangers en route to the United States, including the risk of sexual victimization. Many immigrants or refugees who are sexually assaulted during transit face long-term health risks, such as HIV infection. [124]

Women on the Run: First-Hand Accounts of Refugees Fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico provides an account of immigrants and refugee experiences of sexual violence in their home countries and en route to the United States.

Latin@/x immigrants and refugees who are undocumented are vulnerable to exploitation, sexual harassment, and sexual victimization. Undocumented immigrants and refugees are frequently exploited and harassed, especially in the workplace, and may be reluctant to report their victimization for fear of deportation.

When interacting with an immigrant victim of sexual assault, service providers often learn whether the victim is authorized to reside in the United States. Regardless of immigration status or national origin, a victim of sexual assault should have the expectation of private, empathetic, and unbiased care by health care providers, advocates, and other service providers, as outlined in Care Of Sexual Assault and Rape Victims in the Emergency Department. [125]

According to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination is prohibited on the basis of race, color, or national origin. [126] Service providers should be honest and transparent with victims about potential outcomes or seeking services.

Child Sexual Abuse in the Latin@/x Community

While child sexual abuse prevention programs and resources are becoming more widely used, they are not always culturally relevant to the Latin@/x community. Child sexual abuse in the Latin@/x communities is as difficult to discuss as it is in other communities, and the same effort must be made to provide education and resources for schools, teachers, and parents.

Many different programs perform culturally specific work to meet these needs for their Latin@/x communities. Partnering with these experts in their fields is an effective way to provide sound resources and support marginalized communities. Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) in Philadelphia provides outreach, education, and counseling services for Latin@/x communities in this area using tools such as Parents in the Know, a parent-focused child sexual abuse program. [127]

To better inform prevention and intervention programs, the study Family Relationship Quality and Acculturation: Examination of Their Relationship Among Latino Adolescent Sexual Offenders provides interesting statistics on child sexual abuse across cultures. [128]

Outreach and Including Latin@/x Voices in the SART

Any SART would do well to consider and incorporate diverse voices as an essential piece of a SART planning process. The ongoing discussions that include different sectors of the mainstream communities should also include the diverse cultures of those communities. After the planning is completed is not the time to begin considering, for instance, the needs of the Latin@/x community members.

The National Research Center for Hispanic Children and Families published the resource, Developing Culturally Responsive Approaches to Serving Diverse Populations: A Resource Guide for Community-Based Organizations, which includes a needs assessment, sections on workforce diversity, and budgeting, to name a few topics, as well as resources and tools. [129]

How are those communities represented in these conversations? Your SART can build bridges with those communities and be a presence in the community through local events, participating in community activities, and inviting diverse community leaders and representatives to provide presentations at your organization or agency. Your SART can hold conversations about how to collaborate to be more present and to become more familiar with the community and their diverse needs. By developing relationships with partnering agencies, such as libraries, providers of English as a Second Language, local community resources, and colleges, your SART can access a third-party connection to the community.

For the community to feel represented, diversity in your SART is vital. Having members of the team who are bilingual and bicultural is extremely important. The needs of the Latin@/x community vary according to cultural norms. A first-generation Latin@/x who is traditional and conservative will require different communication styles and resources than a third-generation Latin@/x who speaks little Spanish and is very acculturated. The needs may differ, but all are deserving of careful, thoughtful, and competent support and services. Having someone on the SART who speaks some Spanish, but is not Latin@/x, is quite different than having someone who is a member of that culture and speaks that language. Cultural norms, customs, and traditions are all a part of how Latin@s/x communicate and process trauma.

To best meet the diverse needs of the Latin@/x community, consider collaborating with a culturally specific service and resources provider. Arte Sana, a victim’s advocacy organization that promotes healing and empowerment through the arts, professional training, and community education, discusses consideration for SARTs in Suggestions for Upgrading the Cultural Competency Skills of Sexual Assault Response Teams. [130]

Consider collaborating with other partners in the community, such as spiritual and community organization leaders. Their roles and relationships with the community can help build greater culturally responsive resources and care. Casa de Esperanza provides technical assistance and a wealth of resources and shared tools that can provide direction, support, and collaboration opportunities for working with the Latin@/x communities, and assessing their needs and many more topics, including information on resilience in the Latin@/x communities.

Latin@/x Community Resources

Resources for SARTs Working with Latin@/x Victims

California SART Report: Taking Sexual Assault Response Teams to the Next Level — Research Findings, Promising Practices and Recommendations (PDF, 158 pages)

This report discusses multilingual and multicultural services SARTs can provide.

Empowering Survivors: Legal Rights of Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault

This manual by the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project provides information for advocates, lawyers, and social services professionals who are helping immigrant survivors.

Habla Espanol?: Working with Spanish-Speaking Victims/Survivors in a Rural Setting (PDF, 15 pages)

This resource by Kimber Nicoletti of the Multicultural Efforts to End Sexual Assault at Purdue University includes information relating to language and other issues. Service providers are cautioned not to make assumptions about a Latin@/x victim’s fluency in English or Spanish.

Latin@ Communities

The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs has resources developed by and for Latin@/x communities.

Latin@s and IPV: Evidence-Based Fact Sheet (PDF, 7 pages)

This fact sheet by Casa de Esperanza includes statistics on the rate of victimization of Latin@s/x in the United States as well as needs identified by survivors.

Needs and Preferences for the Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence Among Hispanics: A Community’s Perspective (PDF, 19 pages)

This study by the National Institute of Health provides useful information on different cultures and intimate partner violence as well as the different risk factors associated with intimate partner violence among Hispanics.

The NO MÁS Study: Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Latin@ Community (PDF, 6 pages)

This summary of the NO MÁS Study, commissioned by the Avon Foundation for Women for Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network and NO MORE, discusses barriers that prevent Latin@/x victims from seeking help.

The Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends

This research helps SARTs understand the changing Latin@/x community in the United States.

Promoting Healthy Choices and Community Changes

This free, online educational program by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) teaches promotores de salud and community health workers how to promote healthy choices at individual and community levels.

Refugee and Immigrant Communities

The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs provides cultural and social considerations for immigrants as well as barriers to reporting.

Sexual Assault Glossary

The Office of Justice Programs offers this glossary for bilingual victim advocates to promote a more cohesive use of Spanish translation in print and online materials.

Sexual Violence and the Impact on Latin@ Communities (PDF, 4 pages)

This resource by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape discusses cultural norms and the reporting of sexual violence in the Latin@/x communities as well as tips for practitioners in the anti-sexual violence movement.

Resources for Victims

Joyful Heart Foundation

This organization offers resources with a vision to end violence forever through healing, advocacy, and education.

Mujeres: Latinas en Acción

Mujeres is a bilingual and bicultural agency that provides support programs, intake, volunteer services, and childcare. 

Stop Workplace Sexual Violence!: Assisting Immigrant Survivors of Workplace Sexual Violence (PDF, 55 pages)

This resource was created specifically for immigrant survivors who experienced sexual violence at their workplaces.

UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza)

This organization offers information on advocacy, civil rights, justice, education, employment and economic opportunities, farmworkers, health, housing, and immigration that may be helpful for victims/survivors and Latin@/x advocates and professionals.


This website offers a number of resources, including resources for male victims, support chat rooms, and resources for teens.

Latin@/x Technical Assistance Providers

Arte Sana

This culturally specific, Latina-led organization provides resources and services to improve the quality of life of survivors of gender-based violence and racism.

Bay Area Women Against Rape: Latino Program

The first organization in Northern California to staff a 24-hour rape crisis line available in Spanish, Bay Area Women Against Rape provides trainings, support groups, counseling, outreach, and other services.

Casa de Esperanza

Casa de Esperanza has a culturally relevant approach to ending oppression and a national resource center for organizations working with Latin@s/x in the United States.

Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence

This statewide alliance of individual sexual assault crisis programs focuses on ending violence through victim assistance, community education, and public policy advocacy. Resources are available in Spanish.[131]

Futures Without Violence

This organization provides many downloadable resources on working with immigrant women on intimate partner violence (IPV).

Latinas Unidas por un Nuevo Amanecer (LUNA)

Based in Iowa, LUNA offers resources and services for Latin@s/x, including a 24-hour crisis line in Spanish and English.

National Center for Cultural Competence

This organization offers self-assessments and distance learning opportunities as well as information on building the capacity of health care and mental health care programs.

National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities

A project of Casa de Esperanza, this network offers resources, trainings, and statistics.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center

This organization offers online materials related to sexual violence prevention and intervention, some of which are available in Spanish.

Oklahoma Department of Libraries

This department offers a list of federal websites in Spanish for people who live in Oklahoma.

Texas Association Against Sexual Assault’s Diversity Task Force

TAASA provides access to resources on diversity and the importance of culturally relevant services.

Women Organized Against Rape

Philadelphia’s rape crisis center, WOAR, has a Latin@/x outreach program that consists of bilingual and bicultural counselors providing support services to both male and female survivors of sexual violence in both English and Spanish, along with other programs for community and professional development.

African American/Black Communities

“All systems and advocates have to be mindful that we (Black people) are not monolithic; we are not all the same. We are as diverse as the world is, as the sea is, and we have to be able to support and advocate for each person on their journey as a victim, survivor, or thriver.”

The term Black, or African American, includes a diverse group of individuals living in and recently arrived to the United States. The 2010 U.S. Census defines the Black or African American population as consisting of people who self-identify as Black, African American, or Negro. The census also offered the option of identifying Black or African American in combination of two or more races, such as Sub-Saharan African, Kenyan, Nigerian, Afro-Caribbean, Black Latino, Haitian, and Jamaican. This combination of categories showed that in 2010, the Black population consisted of 42,020,743 (13.6 percent) of the total 308,745,538 population of the United States. [132]

SARTs must understand and embrace the complexity of defining Black, what it means to be Black, and Black culture as it relates to lived experiences, self-identity, and social interactions. This includes understanding values and attitudes that support or fail to support responses to Black victims of sexual assault.

Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Assault

SARTs should seek to understand how past policies have negatively affected the response to sexual assault. These are helpful statistics on sexual assault against Black victims:

  • According to data from the Black Women's Health Study, 42 percent of Black women have experienced childhood sexual abuse. [133]
  • According to data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), 22 percent of Black women have experienced rape, and 41 percent have experienced sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives. [134]
  • NISVS also found that 22.6 percent of Black men have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime. [135]
  • One study of undergraduate women attending historically Black colleges and universities found that approximately 14 percent of respondents reported experiencing a completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college; 9.6 percent experienced completed sexual assaults, and 7.8 percent experienced attempted sexual assaults. [136]
  • Another study of Black male college students found that 9.4 percent reported experiencing sexual victimization on or around campus in the past year. [137]
  • Studies of Black men who have sex with men found that 15 percent to 22 percent of respondents reported being pressured or forced into sexual activity with an intimate partner at some point in their lives. [138] Another study found that 8.37 percent of Black men who have sex with men experienced childhood sexual abuse. [139]
  • Fifty-three percent of Black persons who identify as transgender have experienced sexual assault at some point in their lives. [140]

In understanding how to effectively help victims from this community, SARTs should know that members of the Black community may experience multiple intersecting forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia. Black victims of sexual assault are not immune to the simultaneous and cumulative effects of other traumatic experiences, such as poverty, community violence, incarceration, discrimination, and oppression.

As Black men are overrepresented in detention facilities, SARTs may find it useful to read the sections in the SART Toolkit about Sexual Abuse in Incarceration and Male Victims of sexual assault to explore ways to support individuals with multiple, overlapping traumas. [141]

SARTs should also seek to understand what policies were in place in their jurisdiction that promoted the ongoing disenfranchisement of Black Americans to understand how those policies affect current perceptions of services. For example, if Black Americans were not allowed to seek care at hospitals or care provided was of a lower quality in the past, will they perceive hospitals as safe, welcoming places today?

Help-Seeking and Reporting in Black Communities

Black sexual assault victims may be hesitant to come forth and report acts of sexual victimization, or to voluntarily cooperate with individual systems or SARTs. For example, in a study of adult female sexual assault survivors, only small percentages of Black respondents reported disclosing their victimization to a counselor or therapist (18 percent) or to police (11 percent). [142]

Black victims’ reluctance to engage with formal services may be especially strong with regard to law enforcement. One study found that Black respondents were significantly more likely than white respondents to worry that police will stereotype them or make negative assumptions about their criminal history. [143]

Another study of residents in six predominantly Black urban communities found that roughly half of respondents expected police to treat them differently because of their race or ethnicity (55.5 percent), to judge them because of their race or ethnicity (53.5 percent), to act on personal prejudices (51.4 percent), and to misinterpret their words or actions as criminal on account of their race or ethnicity (49 percent). [144]

A deeper look at the relationship between high rates of violence, heavy police presence, and communities with limited resources is presented in How Do People in High-Crime, Low-Income Communities View the Police? by the Urban Institute.

Fears of re-victimization by service providers, previous negative experiences with social service systems, and social pressures to shield other members of the Black community may inhibit Black victims from reporting or seeking help. [145]

Black victims can experience sexual assault by Black or non-Black perpetrators. In instances of intraracial sexual assault, victims may be resistant to report a Black perpetrator who belongs to their family or community. Black victims may feel that they are duty-bound to protect the community by remaining silent out of fear of retaliation against the community or concerns that Black perpetrators will not be treated fairly by law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

Researchers are exploring the way these historical realities impact service provision for sexual assault victims. One such 2012 study, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners’ Perceptions of the Influence of Race and Ethnicity on Victims’ Responses to Rape, explores the role race and ethnicity play in the perception of rape and experiences of victims.

Community Outreach and Engagement

When working with the Black community, SARTs should identify leaders in that community, recognizing that a “leader” may be a person, informal organization, or formal organization.

Often an individual or a group of individuals form an organization or network to fill gaps in mainstream services for victims in their community. These organizations are seen by Black victims as safe, understanding, and empowering, and the primary organizations that serve Black victims. These organizations may appear informal, receive zero or little funding, have no paid staff, have no incorporated or 503(c) status, and may have no formal staff titles. SARTs seeking to adapt services to meet the needs of Black communities can seek out these leaders and build meaningful relationships by engaging them in discussions about what actions the SART could take to improve responses to sexual assault in their communities.

SARTs should be aware that many of these organizations have limited resources and make sure that asking for information or participation on the SART is not a burden. SARTs can plan to offer transportation, stipends, and other needed supports for attendance at meetings and may seek to provide funding to these organizations long-term or as part of MOUs. For more information, read the Protocol and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) section in the SART Toolkit.

These conversations should happen between members on a local level. Funding should not be used as a mechanism of power to require attendance or participation in SART activities. The purpose of the collaboration is to explore systems change with the goal of helping systems serve Black communities, rather than encouraging Black individuals to participate in a system that does not meet their needs or puts them in harm’s way.

SARTs should prioritize the inclusion and conscious participation of traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised communities, specifically diverse Black communities. The values, philosophy, and principles of SARTs must align with culturally specific and trauma-informed practices, so as to serve these communities effectively.

Recommendations for Promising Practices

SARTs are advised to review the following recommendations to determine areas where your process can become more inclusive. Conducting community needs assessments should be part of ongoing efforts to build partnerships.

The recommendations below were developed by Shelia Hankins as part of an ongoing “Recommendations for Engaging with the Black Community Project,” and represent the voices of the Black community. [146] They do not represent an all-inclusive prescription for planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating culturally specific needs.

Use the following recommendations to determine areas where your process can become more inclusive:

  • Identify a SART planning coordinator to focus on developing, reorganizing, and sustaining a culturally responsive SART.
  • Identify and access the necessary human, financial, and other resources needed to plan and implement the SART.
  • Know your community.
    • Collect and analyze past and current population and geographical data of the local service area. For specific steps, see the Community Needs Assessment section of the SART Toolkit.
    • Collect and analyze data on sexual assault cases and trends over at least the last five years.
    • Determine if the personnel of organizations and departments involved in the processing, enforcement, and victim advocacy for sexual assault cases is representative of the service community, as well as the victims and perpetrators.
    • Understand the impact of sexual assault crimes on the diverse Black community. Listen to people in communities.
  • Identify national or local technical assistance providers who focus on supporting the Black community and who have established or can establish connections with the Black community to request support in the following activities:
    • Developing a plan to conduct outreach and engagement of the Black community.
    • Working with the organizing committee and serving as a liaison in communicating and identifying local community activists and leaders of influence in the Black community.
    • Supporting the local community in identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to responding to and reducing sexual assault in the Black community.
  • Become an active learning project.
    • Understand that increasing outreach to the Black community and adapting services is a process that will evolve over time.
    • Identify, secure, and make available information about sexual assault in the Black community that is also contextualized about the history of oppression and rape in the community.
    • Facilitate opportunities for personnel and volunteers to assess their own personal biases and stereotypes about the diverse Black population that have formed over the course of their lives and influenced by power and privilege.
    • Offer and require culturally responsive training in multiple formats (experiential, lectures, roundtable discussions, workshops, webinars, etc.) to systems, advocates, volunteers, and the community at large.
  • Be transparent while maintaining confidentiality on compromising information.
    • Identify and provide information to the community about the project and systems in general, to restore confidence.
    • Develop a website with information about the SART that is accessible to the community, but that obviously does not share confidential or compromising information.
    • Disseminate a newsletter on the website and that is accessible on paper or in other formats.
    • Participate in community awareness activities and public forums through staff information tables, being interviewed on radio shows, engaging in social media sharing information, and hosting town hall meetings and discussions.
    • Connect with religious institutions, organizations, and their congregations.
    • Connect with fraternities, sororities, civic, and community groups.
    • Post meeting notices on a community calendar.
    • Create an app to track meetings, statistics, and other relevant information.
    • Use media formats, such as DVDs, movies, books, plays, etc., to increase awareness and receive different worldview perspectives about issues that impact the Black community.
  • Provide education and training to systems and the community.
    • Systems should be trained on how to reduce bias.
    • Provide culturally specific and responsive training, based on the needs of the community and facilitated by national or local experts in the field.
    • Provide education on the disparities and disproportional impact of social ills on the Black community.
    • Learn about history and historical trauma.
    • Learn about generational trauma.
    • Increase opportunities to empower communities to become involved in systems development and community improvements.
    • Increase awareness of the continuum of oppression of the Black community through the use of systems and social structures.
    • Provide examples of how the mainstream community may consciously and unconsciously collude with and support the privileges of white communities to the detriment of the Black community.
  • Listen and respond to the complex and diverse voices of the Black community.
    • Conduct and document individual and group community listening sessions and insights on a variety of topics to understand Black communities’ perspectives.
    • Become aware of and sensitive to different communication and learning styles of the diverse Black communities.
    • Although this should be a participatory process, ensure that all involved parties know how decisions are made and what actions will be taken.
  • Support the Black community.
    • Actively and visibly participate in activities and events sponsored by the Black community.
    • Establish individual professional relationships with specific individuals.
    • Provide monetary and in-kind donations and support for activities and events.
    • Partner with Black-led and staffed programs.
    • Refer individuals to Black culturally specific programs for services and support.
    • Host meetings and events in locations and facilities that are in the community and accessible.
  • Establish the project structure.
    • Implement policies and interventions aimed at fostering social justice, social change, and equality, and dismantling oppression and bias.
    • Develop a project services flow chart.
    • Have staffing patterns that reflect the diversity of the community to work directly with the different levels implementing the project, including but not limited to health care professionals, criminal justice personnel, advocates, and therapists.
    • Develop a project budget that covers all aspects of the project.
    • Identify resources to cover the budget.
    • Collectively develop and approve the vision, mission, approach, and activities of the SART.
  • Consistently and on an ongoing basis, evaluate the efforts of the project.
    • Ensure the participation of Black researchers to integrate a culturally specific analysis and interpretation.
    • Include the Black community in the evaluation to identify their perspective of the effectiveness of the project and the process by which they were or were not included.

SARTs cannot accomplish the mission of ending sexual assault without ending it in all communities. These conversations and this work are not short-term action items and cannot be done in isolation.

African American/Black Community Resources

Resources for Working with Communities of Color

San Diego County Sexual Assault Response Team : Standards of Practice for Members of the Interdisciplinary SART Team (PDF, 81 pages)

This manual includes the SART’s dedication to meeting the needs of diverse populations.

Sexual Violence: Communities of Color (PDF, 4 pages)

This resource from Women of Color Network defines sexual violence and highlights issues that are specific to women of color, including African American women, API women, Hispanic and Latin@/x women, and Native American and Alaskan Native women.

Sexual Violence in the Lives of African American Women — Risk, Response, and Resilience

(PDF, 14 pages)

This paper by the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women provides a historical context of Black women’s sexual victimization as well as risk factors and culturally relevant ways to work with Black survivors.

Racism and Oppression Resources

The Effects of Internalized Oppression on the Black Community (PDF, 7 pages)

The author of this paper conducted a textual analysis and interviews to determine how and why internalized oppression exists in the Black community.

Forms of Racism

Calgary Anti-Racism Education discusses different forms of racism, including individual and systemic racism throughout their website.

Institutionalized Oppression Definitions (PDF, 2 pages)

This resource is adopted by Tri-County Domestic and Sexual Violence International Network from “Institutional Oppression” Tools for Diversity©. TACS provides definitions for understanding institutionalized oppression, including definitions of institutions, stereotypes, and prejudice.

Resources on Race as a Social Construct

Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs

This opinion piece by Angela Onwuachi-Willig states that while race and racial identity are social constructs, the social, political, and economic meanings of race are not fluid.

Social Definition of Race

This article from Lumen discusses race as a social construct and provides other ways to analyze humanity.

What We Mean When We Say ‘Race Is a Social Construct’

This article by Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the history of race as a social construct.

Criminal Justice System Resources

18 Examples of Racism in the Criminal Legal System

This article from HuffPost enumerates iniquities in the criminal and legal system and backs up each example with statistics.

Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States

This website from the Sentencing Project breaks down disenfranchisement laws by state.

A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses (PDF, 240 pages)

This ACLU report examines sentences of life without parole (LWOP) with findings based on 646 cases of people serving LWOP.

Sexual Abuse and the Code of Silence in the Black Community

This article by Cherise Charleswell discusses how Black women have been socially conditioned to be silent regarding sexual assault in their communities.

Study Finds Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Black Men at Disproportionate Rates

This article covers a University of Louisville and University of South Carolina study that found unarmed Black men were shot and killed at disproportionate rates in 2015 and that the police officers involved may have biases in their perception of threats.

Written Submission of the American Civil Liberties Union on Racial Disparities in Sentencing: Hearing on Reports of Racism in the Justice System of the United States (PDF, 15 pages)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted this testimony to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for a hearing on racism in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Health Care and Racism Resources

Disparities and Disproportionality in Child Welfare: Analysis of the Research (PDF, 162 pages)

This literature review examines research about racial and ethnic disproportionality and disparities in child welfare, drawing from more than 200 sources.

Minorities More Likely to Receive Lower-Quality Health Care, Regardless of Income and Insurance Coverage

This press release from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine explains a research report’s findings, including reasons for unequal treatment in health care.

Racial Bias and Its Effect on Health Care

This Harvard interview with David R. Williams touches on implicit bias, health disparities, and the role of stress in health care.

Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care

This article focuses on several health conditions and the difference in treatment by race and ethnicity, including coronary artery disease, cancer, stroke, renal disease, and HIV/AIDS.

Activism Resources

Church Culture as a Strategy of Action in the Black Community

This article explains how prayer, call-and-response interaction, and Christian imagery are part of Black culture in the Groveland neighborhood of Chicago and how these aspects play into activism.

Community Activism and Feminist Politics: Organizing Across Race, Class, and Gender

This book edited by Nancy A. Naples includes essays on the topics of challenging categories and frameworks, transforming politics, networking for change, and constructing community.

Film Resources


This documentary by Ava DuVernay covers race and the criminal justice system in America. It is available to stream on Netflix.

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

This six-part series by Thirteen Media with Impact documents African-American history and includes historical sites, discussions with historians, and interviews with eyewitnesses.

Healing Neen (multimedia, 54:03)

This documentary tells the story of Tonier “Neen” Cain, who experienced violence, trauma, and addiction, was incarcerated, and has now become an advocate and educator about childhood abuse.

NO! The Rape Documentary

This documentary investigates rape and sexual assault through first-person testimonies, scholarship, spirituality, activism, and cultural work of Black people in the United States.

Programs and Technical Assistance Providers Representing Communities of Color

The ASHA Project

This organization focuses on preventing domestic and sex trafficking, specifically in African American communities.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) helps African American and Black immigrant communities organize and advocate for justice.

Black Transmen Inc.

Black Transmen focuses on awareness, equality, advocacy, and empowerment of trans men.

Black Women’s Blueprint

Black Women’s Blueprint is empowering women of African descent and working to create social, political, and economic equality in America.

Black Women's Health Imperative

Black Women’s Health Imperative develops strategies, partners, and organizations to help with the health issues that affect Black women and girls.

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence

INCITE! is a national feminist organization working to end violence against women, gender non-conforming people, and trans people of color.

National Black Justice Coalition

This civil rights organization works to empower Black LGBTQ communities and people living with HIV/AIDS.

National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault

This organization is comprised of women of color working across the country in the anti-sexual assault movement to make social change.

Trans Women of Color Collective

This initiative seeks to uplift and empower trans and gender non-conforming people of color. The Collective’s Healing and Restorative Justice Institute focuses on health and wellness, advocacy and leadership development, and a visibility campaign.

Ujima, Inc.: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community

This culturally specific program specializes in education and outreach, training and technical assistance, resource development, research, and public policy. 

Women of Color Network, Inc.

This national organization supports women of color advocates and activists by providing training, technical assistance, and advocacy.

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