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Native women face higher rates of rape, sexual assault 4-24-07

By JENNIFER TALHELM
WASHINGTON (AP) - American Indian women are more than twice as likely to be raped as other U.S. women, and the suspects often go free because of confusing police jurisdictions and a lack of nurses, Amnesty International reports.

The human rights group said Tuesday that at least one in three Indian women will be raped or sexually assaulted, compared with fewer than one in five U.S. women overall.

Confusion about whether state, federal or tribal police should respond means victims might not see a police officer or a nurse for hours or days, if at all. Even if a rape victim is taken to an Indian Health Service clinic, almost half lack staff trained to provide emergency services to victims of sexual violence, researchers said.

“What this amounts to is a travesty of justice for the tens of thousands of indigenous survivors of rape,” said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. He contended the U.S. government's treatment of Indian rape victims is a violation of human rights.

“I haven't found jurisdictional challenges to be such that these cases are going unprosecuted,” North Dakota U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said. “Federal, tribal, state and local officials work well together (in North Dakota). These are cases we are very aggressive about.”

At a news conference Tuesday in Washington, Cox said the group will press Congress to fully fund the Violence Against Women Act at $683 million. Tribes would get about 10 percent of various grant programs under the act. Members also will push for money for more sexual assault nurse examiners at tribal clinics.

State and federal officials have pledged to fight skyrocketing crime rates on Indian reservations related in part to methamphetamine and other drug abuse.

Indian reservations, which are often rural and poor and lack large police forces, have long struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and related crimes. Meth has made the problem worse in recent years.

Amnesty International used sexual violence statistics from a Justice Department survey. The group focused on three locations: Alaska, Oklahoma and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The report indicated at least 86 percent of the reported rapes or sexual assaults of Indian women are by non-Indian men.

State, tribal or federal police might be responsible for investigating, depending on the seriousness of the crime and whether the perpetrator is an Indian.

The maze of law enforcement jurisdictions on Indian reservations has created “areas of effective lawlessness which encourages violence,” according to the report.

During Tuesday's news conference, Renee Brewer, a domestic violence worker from Oklahoma, said rape victims sometimes must wait for help while tribal and local police hammer out who should respond to the crime.

“Imagine having to tell your story multiple times to authorities in multiple systems that may or may not be working in collaboration,” Brewer said.

Tribes ultimately want the resources and ability to provide public safety themselves, said Sarah Deer, a tribal law specialist from Minnesota and a member of the Muscogee Nation.
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