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Victim stories and displays provide stark reminder of sexual and domestic abuse

Multiple anonymous victims shared their experiences at Diane Peppler Resource Center's spaghetti dinner

Framed survival stories of sexual assault could be seen on the tables. Hanging above were the clothes worn by victims when attacked.

“They were sexually assaulted while wearing those items,” said Diane Peppler Resource Center Executive Director Betsy Huggit said about the display. “It doesn’t matter what she was wearing. Her clothes were not consent for someone to sexually assualt her.”

The DPRC held a spaghetti dinner at the Niigaanizhik Ceremonial Building this week to help draw attention to Sexual Assault Awareness Month, inviting Bay Mills and the Sault Tribe Advocacy Resource Center to help set-up these attention-grabbing booths. 

Written under a rainbow tank top with green shorts were the words of one such survivor:

“This is an outfit that was very similar to the one I wore when I was assaulted. I was around the age of four. The man that assaulted me was my biological mother’s friend. He used the excuse that it looked like I wet my pants to assault me. Not only did he assault me, he also assaulted my younger sister that day. Charges were filed, but later dropped. The prosecutor dropped the charges due to our ages.”       

Nearby hung a military uniform. Below, were the words of its survivor:

“My military uniform is what I was wearing the last time I was sexually assaulted. I say the last time because this was not the first time. The first time was when I was a small child, and it was a family member. The last time, I was a young E-4 single mother, and the offender was an O-1 officer. I never told anyone because there was no one to tell. The military, then, had no recourse for reporting these crimes. I volunteered for an overseas assignment to get away and, then, got out of the military. I left my career because of this sexual assault. He was never held accountable. And moved up the ranks to become an O-6, full bird colonel. My life will never be the same because of the assault.”    

The Sault Tribe’s Advocacy Resource Center helps to spread the word and provide help to victims of sexual and domestic violence whenever, however and wherever they can.

Cultural Healing Educator Ashley Gravelle set-up a booth full of information at the DPRC event last night. Among key items were “What’s in Your Glass?” cards.

“These cards will actually test drinks to see if anyone has been drugged,” said Gravelle. “So, this is a great resource that we offer and people take tons of them. Actually, we have had a couple local bars ask for them and we have dropped them off  downtown, so that’s pretty great.”

The drink will turn blue if something is detected in the drink. At which point, Gravelle advises the victim to call 9-1-1. 

She discussed preparations for a new advocacy resource center building, offering rape kits and everything necessary to care for the victim. It is called the Sexual Victims Services Program. 

“The whole building is set-up so that a victim would not have to go anywhere but that building,” said Gravelle. So, it stops them from having to tell their story multiple times to multiple people.”

The advocacy resource center services the seven county service area of the Upper Peninsula, extending out to Marquette and Escanaba. 

“As long as you are within our service area, which is pretty much the entire UP,  we can help you,” said Gravelle. 

Victims do not have to be Native American to utilize these services. 

“We are finding that many people just assume that because we are a tribal program, we won’t help,” said Gravelle. “We have been putting out a lot more information on that to let people know that, yes, we are a tribal organization but we don’t discriminate against anybody for their race or sexual orientation.”

DPRC intern Lake Superior State University student Brielle Susan-Pettit sat at the agency’s booth, which was filled with pamphlets and information. 

“I, myself, was a victim of abuse,” said Susan-Pettit, who helps out anywhere from two to four days per week. “I wanted to help others. I think the best thing is working with survivors and giving them the resources to help.”

Susan-Pettit prepares to graduate with a bachelors in criminal justice this May. She will go on to make a difference.

“Those folks are the people who work at the Diane Peppler Center,” Pettit said, pointing to a crew of ladies in the kitchen cooking. 

Visitors offered donations to get into the door, where they enjoyed a spaghetti dinner to help raise money for DPRC. 

“We are in Chippewa, Luce and Mackinac County,” said Huggit. “We have advocates in all three counties. We have our shelter and outreach office here in Chippewa County.”

There are many ways people can donate, via website or facebook page. Monetary and essential items are accepted.

“We have PayPal,” said Huggit. “They can go right online and do it. We always have a wish list on our AmazonSmile account. It is a wish list full of items we need for our shelter.”

Simply look for Diane Peppler Resource Center the next time you shop on Amazon. 

“People can select Diane Peppler Resource Center as their charity,” said Huggit. “It is just your regular Amazon account but it attaches a charity to your shopping, so you can have the opportunity to earn up to five percent cash to put towards the charity of your choice. We are one of the listed charities.”     

Meanwhile, the Sault Tribe Advocacy Resource Center gets ready to dive into its “Red Dress Campaign” throughout the month of May.  

“The original creator of the Red Dress campaign, Jaime Black a Metis from Canada, stated that red is the lifeblood and connection to all of us,”Community Educator

Jess Gillotte-King stated. “Please honor our missing and murdered indigenous people and wear red throughout the month of May.”

The Sault Tribe Advocacy Resource Center will hold a candlelight vigil for their missing and murdered sisters at Sault Area High School and the Native Youth Council, entitled, “Voices Unheard” Friday, May 20, 2022 at 7 p.m. 

The advocacy resource center encourages you to hang a red dress in your yard, neighborhood or offices to commemorate missing indigenous women and men. The advocacy center is in need of red dresses throughout the month of May. 

If you need emergency assistance, you are asked to contact the police immediately. 

The Diane Peppler Resource Center (DPRC) has trained advocates who provide support and referrals at a 24-hour Hotline: 1-800-882-1515.