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Legal services expand for battered women

RAPID CITY, S.D. – An existing legal advocacy program for battered women on the Pine Ridge reservation has expanded to the urban area and will offer legal services to all women in need.

The Stronghold civil legal service is a project of Cangleska Inc., which provides shelter and advocacy for battered women and their families on Pine Ridge.

Stronghold will, with a staff attorney, provide legal advocacy in court, help clients fill out orders for protection and restraining orders, and assist with child custody, divorce proceedings, legal separation, housing issues and property rights.

Any woman who self-declares she is the victim of domestic violence will be assisted within the scope of Stronghold.

“Clearly, when women are battered, their lives essentially fall apart – they have not only sometimes to seek medical care, they flee their homes, have difficulty with matters in their lives, not only because of trauma, ongoing harassment by abuser, barriers put in place economically and through the court systems. Sometimes the batterer’s family is difficult to deal with; also, financial or economic concerns for a battered woman,” said staff attorney Lisa Cook.

The expansion to a Rapid City office will help assist battered women in the western portion of South Dakota, which is home to five reservations. There will be no charge for the services; Stronghold is funded by grants from the Department of Justice.

There has been enough work for legal services on Pine Ridge, but many people flee to Rapid City and other areas for safety. Stronghold will have cross jurisdiction to assist any woman, said Brett Shelton, staff attorney.

Shelton has and will continue to travel the region to assist victims of domestic violence. Most of his work involves filling out legal papers, he said.

Cangleska has a shelter in Rapid City and also operates Sacred Circle, a national resource center offering technical assistance and consultation to other tribes and organizations.

In Indian country, domestic violence statistics are on the increase and services such as Stronghold are needed, Cook said.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2005, Cangleska assisted 807 women with services. Two hundred and three sought legal advocacy with 115 protection orders. Compared to the entire 2004 calendar year, these figures show a substantial increase. In 2004, a total of 357 women were assisted; 237 women sought legal advocacy with 201 protection orders.

Shelton said that as many American Indians live in the urban area of western South Dakota as do on the reservation. He said he expects the statistics to reveal a need for the legal services.

Jurisdiction today is not an issue. In the past, orders for protection were not enforced in other law enforcement venues, but now law enforcement departments – regardless of jurisdiction – are obligated to enforce protection or restraining orders.

Cangleska provides a comprehensive program to help women get out of domestic violence by providing what the women need, according to Karen Artichoker, co-manager of Cangleska.

A men’s camp during the summer is designed to re-educate men. Out of 73 men who participated in the program, 11 completed the program. The men experience a transformation while in the camp. Of the men who were terminated from the program for non-compliance or for quitting it, 12 returned.

“We know that for the most part, men who batter do so for a variety of reasons. If one partner leaves them, they will simply find another partner and the cycle continues and repeats itself.

“We are not only concerned with helping women feel better about themselves; we want to see men feel better about themselves and have successful relationships,” Cook said.

Artichoker said there was a growing need for more legal services. Sometimes the justice system was used against the victim by the batterer as a means of retaliation. The victim needs to be represented by an attorney at that time. Stronghold will take the service to the people because for years people had been asking for help, she said.

“We have attorneys and have advocates available. We can get assistance to them,” Artichoker said. “No woman should stand alone.”

The primary client base for Stronghold will be the American Indian community, but others will not be turned away. This is an expansion from Indian country to the rest of the community.

American Indian women, however, are the most victimized and the majority of them are abused by non-Indian partners, according to Department of Justice statistics. On a national scale, 33 percent of all women abused are American Indian; however, in the Plains region 75 percent of all domestic violence is against American Indian women.