‘Domestic and sexual violence still vastly underreported in the CNMI’


Domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, and even teen dating violence happen in the CNMI community yet they are still vastly underreported, according to Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Violence associate director Kiki Igitol Benjamin.

While the CNMI has made progress over the years with a more survivor-centered policies, including work protections and an emphasis on trauma-informed services, there are still barriers that prevent victims and survivors from seeking help, Benjamin said, and those barriers become even more challenging when a victim or survivor is identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or anywhere on the spectrum “that is not straight or cisgender.”

Benjamin talked about these barriers and LGBT issues during the Legislature’s first CNMI Pride Talks hosted by the House Committee on Health and Welfare at the House chamber last Wednesday.

She said barriers to addressing LGBT partner violence both for service providers and survivors include the belief that domestic violence does not occur in LGBT relationships and is often classified as a gender-based issue, or reported as something other than domestic violence.

Other barrier is societal anti-LGBT bias. She said society’s long history of entrenched racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia prevents victims from seeking help from the police, medical, legal, and court system for fear of discrimination or bias.

Benjamin said other barriers are lack of appropriate training for service providers that’s LGBT-specific and a climate of fear that airing of the problems among the LGBT population will take away from progress toward equality or fuel anti-LGBT bias.

Benjamin also noted that nationally, domestic violence shelters are typically female only, thus transgender people may not be allowed entrance into shelters due to their gender/genital.

She said that, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey done by the Centers for Disease Control, people who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual have experienced domestic violence, rape, other forms of sexual violence, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner at higher rates than straight people, and have a harder time accessing support.

Benjamin said the CDC found that 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of straight women.

She said CDC also found that 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by intimate partner, compared to 29% of straight men.

“These numbers are too high no matter how you identify but it is remarkably higher for [LGBT] people, including the 47% of transgender people who will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime,” she said.

Benjamin underscored the need for people’s awareness of the realities and challenges that the LGBT community experiences, and learn how to be an ally. “Call out and shut down those homophobic jokes, no matter who the person saying it may be,” she said.

At the coalition, Benjamin said, they are realizing how direct services for victims and survivors in the CNMI need to not only include trauma-informed care but also services that are more inclusive and LGBT-friendly.

Aside from Benjamin, the other panelists at the policy roundtable discussions during the Pride Talks were LGBT advocate and transgender Tyra Lyn Sablan, Pride Marianas Youth co-founder Dr. Jennifer Maratita, Community Guidance Center representative Tiara Evangelista, and student leaders Zenn Ichiro Tomokane and Jigger Parayaoan.

House Committee on Health and Welfare chair Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) said the panelists’ insights will help guide the lawmakers in understanding how the Legislature can create spaces that are more inclusive, that are braver and safer. She proposed forming a policy working group to prioritize some of the action items that have been discussed that day and the previous meetings of the committee.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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