Information, resources for survivors of sexual violence

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DENVER - The faces of individual sexual assault victims are everywhere in Indian country. As Amnesty International found last year, some Native women did not know anyone in their communities who had not experienced sexual violence.

But it;s a collective face, as well - a population of Native women throughout the U.S. who suffer violence, including sexual assault, at a rate more than double that of any other ethnic group.

''It's a rare Indian woman who has escaped some violence in her life,'' Karen Artichoker said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. She is the director of Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women.

Sobering statistics over the last five years from the U.S. Department of Justice, AI and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs include the following:

"Approximately one in three Native (American Indian/Alaska Native) women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, but even that number may be greatly underreported for a variety of reasons, including fear of the perpetrator or lack of access to a responsive legal system.

"In a study of one group of Alaska Native women, 78 percent reported having been sexually abused, with 76 percent of that abuse occurring before age 13.

"Native women experience higher rates of sexual assault and domestic violence than any other population group in the United States, and the number may not be reflective of the actual situation they are facing.

"The rate of violent victimization of Native women was nearly twice that of black women, 2.5 times that of white women, and five times that of Asian women.

"Native women may not get a timely law enforcement response or may never get a police response at all, may never have access to a sexual-assault forensic examination, or may never see their case prosecuted.

"Alcohol abuse, frequently linked to sexual violence, is indicated by alcohol-related arrests and deaths that are at a higher rate among Natives than among all other populations.

"Despite the extent of sexual violence in Indian country, millions of square miles of rural and reservation lands may be patrolled by a mere handful of officers hampered not only by a lack of funds and manpower, but also by a maze of jurisdictional areas.

"On one reservation in South Dakota studied by AI, there reportedly were 600 - 700 outstanding warrants for criminal offenses. The DoJ estimates tribes have only 55 - 75 percent of the law enforcement available to non-Native rural communities, despite significantly higher crime rates.

Jurisdictional authority is determined by a complex formula that takes into account whether the victim and/or assailant is a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe, whether the offense took place on tribal land, whether the crime is a felony, and other factors. This information determines whether tribal, state, federal, or sometimes combined authorities have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute. An overlap of these different authorities often results in further confusion and uncertainty.

The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized by Congress in 2005 and it contains a provision specifically targeting the abuse of Native women, but funding for a tribal registry to track offenders was folded into a larger National Registry, and data collection for implementing the Native program has been moving slowly.

In addition to tribally operated programs across the U.S., sources of information and support for victims of sexual violence or those assisting them include:

"(800) 799-7233, the National Domestic Violence hotline, provides help by referring callers to city/state resources.

"(970) 247-7888, the Our Sister's Keeper Coalition hotline, serves the Four Corners area.

"www.TribalProtectionOrder.org or www.tribal-institute.org, sponsored by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, lists extensive resources, describes existing tribal protection orders, and provides other helpful material.

"www.vaw.umn.edu, of the DoJ and University of Minnesota, offers Violence Against Women online resources, a broad collection that includes material specific to Native women.

"www.cangleska.org, a long-standing domestic violence/sexual assault assistance program, serves women from the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Rapid City, S.D., area.

"www.letswrap.com, of the Women's Rural Advocacy Program, has some Native-specific domestic violence information.

"www.nnedv.org is a coalition of domestic violence resource groups providing data on existing shelter sites and other resources.