Entering the Darkness – Sexual Health, Abuse Recovery, and Indigenous Suicide

In March 2023 I started running our first indigenous suicide recovery group with a family who had lost their daughter. It sounds so clinical to say it that way–I want to tell you instead about how my heart ached before I even knew them when I received the email about what had happened to their community. Or tell you about the horrible and enormous impact this girl left on those she left behind. She was their joy and light–no one knew she was ill.

But my poor writing today aside, thanks to Njandejara we had great results. Now I need to expand this program–make it more reproducible, and more indigenous-powered.

The other program we piloted last year was focused on preventing and stopping sexual abuse, especially child sexual abuse. Many Guarani children and women have experienced debilitating trauma, but are made to go about their lives as if nothing has happened. People with these experiences may have chronic back pain they don’t understand, may have lowered immune systems, worsened cardiovascular resilience–all because of the biochemical change in their bodies from the enormous stress–and of course, they have an increased suicide risk.

I’m starting very simply, using my background as a sexual assault care provider in the military, with an ear open to the needs and cultural practices specific to Guarani people and other Paraguayans.

First, we–by we I mean myself, my walking buddy Jose Diego, and Njandejara–advertised a “martial arts” class for children, which started out by teaching simple “escape” techniques…but that was actually the lead-in to train kids with UNICEF protocols about their bodies so they understand anatomy and know how to find a safe adult to tell if someone tries to harm them. It’s dark stuff, but most childhood abuse victims don’t even know what’s happening to them, or that they have the right to tell someone so it stops. They’re often threatened and told people will be angry with them if they tell. So that’s where we started.

Next steps are to begin either pain healing or martial arts group meetings for adults, with the same lead-in to discuss sexual trauma. The goal is to put the tools in the hands of indigenous women to share trauma self-care with each other, and more importantly to rise up against their oppressors on their own. I’m not the hero. I’m here to equip the future heroes who will un-normalize rape and abuse so it’s safe for survivors of sexual assault to speak out without threat of retaliation or public shaming.

Because no justice can happen if the victim can’t speak.

If you want to stand with me, I could really use prayer. This is kind of dark stuff (and it’s a little triggering because of my time in Korea), and I need wisdom. I also need to have the Guarani language skills for extreme tact and precision. This particular part of the project doesn’t take money, just time and effort–but I really need prayer.