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Senate seeks solutions to jurisdictional, legal 'maze'

WASHINGTON - Amnesty International's ''Maze of Injustice'' report on violence against Native women continued to make headway in the world at a Sept. 27 Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the committee chairman, emphasized solutions and said he will sponsor a bill this year to clarify the thicket of jurisdictional considerations - the ''maze'' of the report title - that often delay or defeat justice for victims of violence on reservations, according to several witnesses.

Among them was Karen Artichoker, director of the Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women. She joined others in describing reservations as a prowling ground for sexual predators who know that court-imposed restrictions on tribal authority over non-Indians, sentencing limitations placed by Congress on tribal courts and inadequate BIA law enforcement resources mean perpetrators of sexual assault will meet with ''little or no accountability for their crimes.''

As at the AI media conference launching the report in April, some of the victim testimonials before the Senate were hard to hear out. But accounts before the committee suggest it has been harder still for victims to come forward, and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., cited a widespread belief that as disturbing as the prevalence of violence against Native women may be by the AI statistics, ''many of these crimes go unreported.''

Jami Rozell is one who has come forward. The Cherokee schoolteacher, raped at 21 in Tahlequah, Okla., narrated the occasion with attention to others who knew of her plight. After her rape by a non-Native man, Rozell's brother called city police and accompanied her that same night to a nearby IHS hospital. The IHS hospital being unequipped for rape exams, they went to the Tahlequah city hospital next door. An advocate from the local sexual assault service provider showed up, as well as a nurse examiner and the rest of Rozell's family. She was especially grateful for her family and the advocate once the exams began. ''It was horribly uncomfortable. ... My mom asked the nurse if she could clearly tell that I had been raped and she told my mom I had definitely been raped.''

The free advice, summarized as ''don't get raped again by the state court system,'' began almost immediately. ''With everyone I respected and trusted telling me not to press charges, I decided to wait.'' Five months later, ''I was no longer feeling scared. I decided to move ahead with the charges.'' At a preliminary hearing, she sat in the witness stand for two and a half hours as a defense attorney questioned her. ''It was me up there on the stand and not the man who raped me. That was yet again another horrible ordeal in this whole experience. It was a courtroom full of my family and his, and once again a bunch of people from town I had known my whole life. I was made to feel ashamed.''

Weeks later, at the district attorney's office, she learned that despite assurances she would have time to file charges, all the evidence in her case had been destroyed ''in a routine state police cleanup. ... The district attorney said that because I had initially decided not to press charges, everything had been destroyed.''

Rozell said that only now, more than four years after the initial incident, through the support and speaking opportunities provided by AI, has she been able to stand up for herself.

Artichoker told the committee that because of gaps in jurisdiction and faulty law enforcement, ''Today it is more dangerous to report incidents of domestic violence and rape because of the retaliatory violence that often results due to the lack of an appropriate justice system response.''