Native American Women Face High Rape Rate, Report Says

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By Darryl Fears and Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 26, 2007

One in three Native American women will be raped at some point in their lives, a rate that is more than double that for non-Indian women, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

The report, "Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA," noted a variety of reasons that rape is so prevalent on reservations, according to its authors.

In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. the Suquamish Indian Tribe that tribal governments have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. When a crime is committed, tribal police and their non-Indian counterparts must hash out whether the suspect is Indian or not.

Tribal governments lack the funds and staffing to patrol their lands, the report said. At the million-acre Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota, seven police officers are on duty. In Alaska, where state and native police patrol a vast landscape, officers took four hours to reach the village of Nunam Iqua, during which time a barricaded suspect raped a 13-year-old girl in front of her siblings.

"It is extremely frustrating," said Jason O'Neal, chief of the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department in south-central Oklahoma. "It's confusing for the victim because they don't know who they should be calling. A victim of domestic violence may call 911, the sheriff's office or our office."

As a result, victims are reluctant to report rapes because of these circumstances, the report said. When they do, their cases are often mishandled. Health facilities on native lands are so underfunded that many nurses are not trained to counsel victims of sexual assault or to use a police rape kit to gather and preserve evidence of a crime.

"It is disgraceful that such abuse exists today," said Larry Cox, Amnesty International's executive director. "Without immediate action, an already abysmal and outrageous situation for women could spiral even further out of control."

The Bush administration is aware of law enforcement problems in Indian country, said Christopher B. Chaney, deputy director of the Office of Justice Services for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and has budgeted $16 million in extra funds to help tribal police agencies.

But most of the money is for drug enforcement, public awareness campaigns and corrections officers, not the increasing rape problem. About $5 million is slated to help police agencies fight other crimes.

"Domestic violence is up because of methamphetamine use on Indian lands," Chaney said. Rape, Chaney said, "was a problem long before methamphetamine, but methamphetamine is making it worse."

Amnesty International's study was carried out in 2005 and 2006, drawing on victim interviews, questionnaires submitted to law enforcement officials such as police and prosecutors, and numerous reports. More than 86 percent of rapes against Native American women are carried out by non-native men, most of them white, according to the Justice Department.

The Amnesty study focused on three areas: Oklahoma, Alaska and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota. But its findings, said Virginia Davis, associate counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, are reflective of Indian country across the nation.

"It's jaw dropping," Davis said. "We've been talking about this for years. I think this is an incredibly complicated problem. Most Americans can live their daily lives and never think about it."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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