Christine Stark Changemaker: Author speaks out for sexually exploited Native women
Photo courtesy of Christine Stark
"These women have survived for their entire lives. They have an incredible amount of strength and resiliency."-Christine Stark
by Katie Hae Leo
"The power to understand trauma is the power to heal," said
Minneapolis-based writer and activist Christine Stark. "I want to
provide voice and make space in the world for women and children who've been traumatized, marginalized and pathologized."
This passion for justice and understanding has fueled both Stark's work on the groundbreaking novel "Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation" and her research for the first-ever study of prostitution and trafficking of indigenous women, titled "Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota."
In 2007, the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC), a statewide tribal coalition focused on preventing and ending sexual violence in American Indian communities, decided to embark on the research that would become "Garden of Truth."
"There was a lot of anecdotal information coming forward from many Native women in Minnesota about prostitution," Stark said. "We decided to do a research project in order to gather the information, get an idea of the scope of the problem and then find out from the women themselves what it is that they want, what do they need."
A small group of women researchers, Stark among them, spent the next four years working on the project. Its central component includes interviews with 105 Native women in Minnesota who have been sexually trafficked. Their findings were released in October of last year under the title "Garden of Truth," in part because each interviewee chose a flower by which she would be identified in the report.
The study's findings speak for themselves:
79 percent of the women had been sexually abused as children.
98 percent were currently or previously had been homeless.
92 percent wanted to escape prostitution.
62 percent saw a connection between prostitution and the colonizing devaluation of Native people.
"Garden of Truth" researchers hope that the report, in addition to providing essential information on a largely ignored problem, will lead to the creation of culturally specific treatment for sexually exploited Native women.
On a personal level, Stark says that although these women have lived through "things that most people can't even begin to imagine," they are not just victims.
"These women have survived for their entire lives." Stark said.
"They have an incredible amount of strength and resiliency."
The impulse to give voice to underrepresented experiences also drove Stark to write "Nickels," published last year by Modern History Press. Set in Minnesota, the novel captures the unique inner life of Little Miss So and So from age 4 into adulthood. The biracial character's deeply internal point of view is born of dissociation from childhood sexual abuse. Written by Stark as prose poetry, it is at times startling and surprisingly beautiful.
Stark points out that although she is of Native and European ancestry and a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, "The character [in the book] is not me. It's not a memoir."
Stark is currently pursuing a master's degree in social work, and her second novel was just picked up by the same press that published her first.
"It's really important to tell women that they are way stronger than they've been allowed to think they are," she said. "We can accomplish way more than we are allowed to believe."