Violence against women may go unpunished

LOWER BRULE, S.D. - On the Standing Rock Reservation, it is hoped that there will not be more than one call at a time to help victims of violence or crime.

A woman who was beaten called for a police officer, but there was only one on duty at the time. She was told an officer would be sent when available. After a few hours of waiting, the woman no longer cared to report the crime, said Georgia Little Shield, director of the Pretty Bird Woman House shelter on Standing Rock.

''I send advocates out on calls to help; it is not safe, but if we don't help, who will?'' Little Shield asked.

The problem is too few police officers, too large of an area and too little funding.

''Sixty-one women were sexually assaulted in one week on Standing Rock. When women go the city jail for help, that is desperate,'' Little Shield said.

Some women go to the city jail in McLaughlin, on Standing Rock, for protection. The jail is not affiliated with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

''We have become a lawless nation: people take the law into their own hands,'' she said.

A field hearing of the House Resources Committee was held June 1 to collect information from law enforcement, tribal leaders and from women's organizations. The final panel of the day was directed toward violence against women, the result of an Amnesty International report on the subject that recently became public.

''We have been saying this for some time, but when Amnesty International publicized the report, people started to listen,'' said Cecelia Fire Thunder, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and now a director at Cangleska, a battered women's shelter and program.

Police officers are trained in Albuquerque, N.M., but Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin suggested training officers at a new facility in Pierre.

Fire Thunder suggested a training facility in Bismarck, N.D., but the BIA insists on training in Albuquerque.

''Pay the officers well; give them fringe benefits. The training is crucial but is not now meeting the needs of the people,'' she said.

Fire Thunder suggested an important change for the major crimes act to include rape to involve the FBI so the perpetrator doesn't walk.

She also called for separate hearings by the Resources Committee on sexual assault.

''We need to find new dollars, we need data. I ask you, direct the BIA to allow us to get into the BIA records for the data,'' Fire Thunder said.

A further problem is lack of training for officers to deal with domestic violence.

The South Dakota Domestic Violence Coalition conducts training for officers, but no one shows up, Little Shield said. ''The departments say they can't spare the officers to attend the trainings.''

On the Cheyenne River Reservation, the officers were mandated to attend, but that can't be the case with BIA officers.

On the Pine Ridge Reservation, which has the strictest and first domestic violence code, all officers go through training.

To help, AI has called for full funding of the Native American Violence Act and that the IHS establish protocols that deal with ways victims are treated.

IHS doctors, who have short terms with a service unit, do not perform rape testing because they don't want to return to attend a possible court hearing, advocates claim.

Observers of the hearing might think that people attended to bash the BIA and federal government.

''We know the problem; we didn't come to bash the BIA,'' said Robert Cournoyer, chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribal Business Council.

''It comes down to funding. There is never enough money to succeed, just enough to fail. ... Indian country is severely underfunded for health, education and law enforcement. We can pull ourselves up, but we need help and we all need to work together to solve the problems,'' Cournoyer said.