WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published December 12, 2011, 04:30 PM

American Indian Woman Goes From Victim to Advocate

SISSETON, S.D. (AP) — During one of the many beatings Sophia Renville Brown endured on what she calls her journey through domestic violence, a small bone behind her left eye was hit with such force that it pushed into her sinus.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

SISSETON, S.D. (AP) — During one of the many beatings Sophia Renville Brown endured on what she calls her journey through domestic violence, a small bone behind her left eye was hit with such force that it pushed into her sinus.

To fix it, a doctor had to break her nose in three places.

"Without hesitation, I decide I want surgery, as every time I look in the mirror I am reminded of the past," Brown says in a speech she regularly delivers to victims of domestic violence. "I do not believe in coincidence, as this surgery was a prayer answered."

Brown is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe in northeastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota.

She describes herself as a mother, wife, college student — and survivor.

More than four years after she left her most recent abuser — one in a string, she says — she works as the shelter manager and advocate at the Women's Circle, which is a safe house for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. There, abuse victims — mostly women — seek refuge in the intentionally non-descript beige house that bears no street address and requires a security code to enter.

Domestic violence runs rampant on American Indian reservations, where law enforcement is sparse and the legal system largely ineffective. The issue has been highlighted by two rulings in federal appeals courts giving prosecutors legal muscle to go after habitual offenders.

"It's a very important opportunity to address violence against native women," says Tim Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota.

Brown is frank about her past. Probably the worst beating, she says, came at the hands of her last abusive boyfriend. Brown says she confronted him after he came home drunk, and the thrashing began.

"He had my hair in his fists and bit my cheek and he started hitting my face with his fist," she says. "He then grabbed my hair with both hands and started to slam my head very hard into the wall about five times. He said he would kill me."

She says she got him to calm down by offering to make sausage and eggs. Then she ran out the apartment.

She would eventually go back to him. The cycle continued. Rage, followed by retreat, followed by return. During the last beating, she says she was being choked as police came through the door. She fled to the Women's Circle and eventually got treatment for alcohol addiction.

Thanks to surgery and quick healing, she no longer relives the beatings when she looks in the mirror.

Her nose is straight again. Her confidence, rebuilt. These days she tells her story in hopes it will convince other victims to not give up.

"I am a strong-willed, spirited woman," Brown says. "I would not change a thing from my past as it has made me who I am. I am very thankful that through God's grace I am here today."

Tags: