Month: June, 2012


Friday, June 29, 2012

LUMMI RESERVATION - Native American women who live on a reservation can't always get the legal protection they need if a non-native spouse or partner becomes abusive, tribal officials said Tuesday, June 26, during a rally and march here.

The rally attracted about 30 participants who marched to support changes in the federal Violence Against Women Act that are meant to curb violence against women on Indian reservations.

"We do have a lot of women who are in relationships with non-Indians," said Nikki Finkbonner, coordinator of the Lummi Victims of Crime program.

In those cases, tribal police cannot arrest non-Indian perpetrators of violence against Lummi women, and protection orders from tribal courts can't always be enforced by non-Indian law enforcement.

In April 2012, the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate passed a new version of the Violence Against Women Act that contained provisions to change that. Among other things, the Senate bill would give tribal courts the authority to issue and enforce civil protection orders over anyone, while also expanding criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians accused of domestic violence crimes on reservations.

But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed its own version of the bill in May 2012 that does not include those provisions. Republican critics of the Senate bill said the tribal provisions would represent an unprecedented expansion of tribal legal power over non-Indians.

Charlene Casimir-George, housing advocate with Lummi Victims of Crime, helps find emergency shelter for women who have been abused by the men in their lives. She agreed that the legal changes in the Senate bill would provide faster legal protection for tribal women with non-Indian spouses and partners.

"We want safety for all of our women, we want safety for all of our children," Casimir-George told the people who gathered at the edge of the Silver Reef Casino parking lot off Haxton Way. "We're going to tell our daughters that they deserve to be respected and honored as women."

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo acknowledged that jurisdiction is an issue when his deputies respond to domestic violence cases or other crimes on the reservation. Lummi officers have the court-affirmed legal authority to detain non-Indians if they have sufficient evidence that the person has committed a crime on the reservation, Elfo said. But they cannot arrest non-Indians and take them to Whatcom County Jail. Tribal officers must wait for a county sheriff's deputy to arrive.

Elfo said he hasn't had a chance to review the implications of the proposed changes in federal law.

"Everywhere in Whatcom County, domestic violence is a serious problem," Elfo said. "I'm certainly for working with tribal police to try to prevent it and hold people accountable."

Elfo noted that there is a provision in state law that would allow Lummi officers to obtain full arrest powers over non-Indians. For that to happen, the tribe and the county would have to negotiate an agreement, after the tribe has submitted documentation showing that its officers have the required training and insurance coverage. Elfo said he would be receptive to such a deal, but the initiative should come from Lummi Nation.

"That's up to the tribe, whether they want to do that," Elfo said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said Congress has yet to take the first step toward resolving the differences between the House and Senate bills: appointing a conference committee that would try to hammer out a law that can pass both houses. And more is at stake than tribal jurisdiction issues: The legislation also reauthorizes funding for federal programs to combat domestic violence and help victims.

Larsen supports the Senate version. Besides the added protections for women on Indian reservations, the Senate bill also contains language meant to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual sex abuse victims, and to make it easier for women without legal immigrant status to report crimes against them.

Larsen said he's unimpressed with fears that the Senate bill might give tribal governments too much authority.

"Solutions should focus on protecting the victims rather than on the complaints of the abusers," Larsen said.

Dan Matthews, one of Larsen's Republican challengers in the November election, takes a different view. While he calls violence against women "morally repulsive and totally unacceptable" on his website, he also accuses Larsen of playing politics with the issue. Matthews contends that domestic violence is best confronted by state and local authorities.

Matthews also criticizes the Violence Against Women Act as potentially unfair to men.

"The VAWA offers women both a tactical advantage and a powerful weapon when they want to get back at a man, have regrets the next morning, or want out of a marriage for any reason at all," Matthews says on his website. "Allegations of abuse can cause men to lose their homes, jobs, children and reputations in the community. Once they've been thrown in jail because of mandatory arrests and have been assumed guilty, where do they go to get their reputations and their jobs back when the accusations are proven false?"

Reach JOHN STARK or call 715-2274.

Creating an Environment of Support (Work Place)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Following are some suggestions for reaching out to employees to either offer help or urge them not to be silent on the issue:
  • Promote local and/or national domestic violence hotlines and EAP phone numbers via:
    • inserts in paychecks
    • posters in all rest rooms, lunch rooms, break rooms, bulletin boards, etc.
    • e-mail messages during October (National Domestic Violence Awareness Month) and throughout the year
    • articles in company newsletters
    • distribution of educational materials, in conjunction with a local violence partner, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October
  • Educate employees about relationship abuse and how they can speak out on the issue. Disseminate brochures and memos, such as the Recognize.Respond.Refer brochures, that provide information on domestic violence and on how men and women can get involved to help end it.
  • Partner with a local expert to hold seminars on issues of family communication, family stress, healthy and unhealthy relationships, etc.
  • Allow associates having difficulties to feel safe in the workplace by:
    • assigning them to special parking spots
    • escorting them to their cars or other points of transportation
    • providing guidance through relevant legal processes
    • securing reception areas with panic buttons
    • providing secure work areas
    • educating employees about the resources available to them
  • Work with a local partner to conduct policy and protocol training sessions for human resources, health services and security departments. If possible, extend these sessions to all managers and supervisors, so that they can be sensitive to and/or recognize signs of abuse.
  • If possible, include as part of the benefits package an Employee Assistance Program that provides an 800 phone number for associates to use in crisis situations.

Bipartisan Senate Letter: House Should Have Up Or Down Vote On Senate Consensus VAWA Bill To Support ALL Victims Of Violence

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

 WASHINGTON (TUESDAY, JUNE 12)— Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the lead author of the Senate’s Violence Against Women Act, sent a bipartisan letter with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) Tuesday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), urging him to bring up the Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act. This landmark law has been at the foundation of the nation’s response to domestic and sexual violence since 1994, and the Senate’s bipartisan reauthorization measure is based on months of work with survivors, advocates, and law enforcement officers from all across the country.

While the House passed its own version of the legislation last month, that measure did not include key provisions to meet the needs of all victims of domestic and sexual violence. To ensure that victims’ needs do not go unanswered, Leahy and Murkowski called upon the House to take up the Senate’s bipartisan VAWA bill.

“Saving the lives of victims of domestic violence should be above politics.  Yet politics seem to have gotten in the way of House passage of the bipartisan Senate Violence Against Women (VAWA) Reauthorization Act,” Leahy and Murkowski wrote to Boehner. “We cannot afford to let another day go by.  We urge you to swiftly allow for an up-or-down vote in the House on the Senate’s bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act.” 


The Senate bill, of which Leahy is the lead author and Murkowski a cosponsor, was approved April 26 on a 68-31 vote. The legislation had the support of 15 Republican Senators, and isendorsed by more than 1,000 national, state and local organizations, from law enforcement to religious organizations, victim advocates to health professionals.


The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act would further strengthen and improve programs authorized under the landmark law to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  The reauthorization bill includes an increased focus on sexual assault, including the addition of new purpose areas to support the efforts of sexual assault coalitions working in the states and provisions to help reduce rape kit backlogs.

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 [The text of the Leahy-Murkowski letter is available by clicking here.]



For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Native Americans are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault in remote Alaskan villages like Emmonak, women’s advocates say. More Photos »


Published: May 22, 2012

EMMONAK, Alaska — She was 19, a young Alaska Native woman in this icebound fishing village of 800 in the Yukon River delta, when an intruder broke into her home and raped her. The man left. Shaking, the woman called the tribal police, a force of three. It was late at night. No one answered. She left a message on the department’s voice mail system. Her call was never returned. She was left to recover on her own.


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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A sign at Emmonak’s shelter. One in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape, according to the Justice Department. Their rate of sexual assault is more than twice the national average. More Photos »

“I drank a lot,” she said this spring, three years later. “You get to a certain point, it hits a wall.”

One in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape, according to the Justice Department. Their rate of sexual assault is more than twice the national average. And no place, women’s advocates say, is more dangerous than Alaska’s isolated villages, where there are no roads in or out, and where people are further cut off by undependable telephone, electrical and Internet service.

The issue of sexual assaults on American Indian women has become one of the major sources of discord in the current debate between the White House and the House of Representatives over the latest reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994.

A Senate version, passed with broad bipartisan support, would grant new powers to tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners. But House Republicans, and some Senate Republicans, oppose the provision as a dangerous expansion of the tribal courts’ authority, and it was excluded from the version that the House passed last Wednesday. The House and Senate are seeking to negotiate a compromise.

Here in Emmonak, the overmatched police have failed to keep statistics related to rape. A national study mandated by Congress in 2004 to examine the extent of sexual violence on tribal lands remains unfinished because, the Justice Department says, the $2 million allocation is insufficient.

But according a survey by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural villages like Emmonak is as much as 12 times the national rate. And interviews with Native American women here and across the nation’s tribal reservations suggest an even grimmer reality: They say few, if any, female relatives or close friends have escaped sexual violence.

“We should never have a woman come into the office saying, ‘I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped,’ ” said Charon Asetoyer, a women’s health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, referring to the morning-after pill. “That’s what’s so frightening — that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women.”

The difficulties facing American Indian women who have been raped are myriad, and include a shortage of sexual assault kits at Indian Health Service hospitals, where there is also a lack of access to birth control and sexually transmitted disease testing. There are also too few nurses trained to perform rape examinations, which are generally necessary to bring cases to trial.

Women say the tribal police often discourage them from reporting sexual assaults, and Indian Health Service hospitals complain they lack cameras to document injuries.

Police and prosecutors, overwhelmed by the crime that buffets most reservations, acknowledge that they are often able to offer only tepid responses to what tribal leaders say has become a crisis.

Reasons for the high rate of sexual assaults among American Indians are poorly understood, but explanations include a breakdown in the family structure, a lack of discussion about sexual violence and alcohol abuse.

Rape, according to Indian women, has been distressingly common for generations, and they say tribal officials and the federal and state authorities have done little to help halt it, leading to its being significantly underreported.

In the Navajo Nation, which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, 329 rape cases were reported in 2007 among a population of about 180,000. Five years later, there have been only 17 arrests. Women’s advocates on the reservation say only about 10 percent of sexual assaults are reported.

The young woman who was raped in Emmonak, now 22, asked that her name not be used because she fears retaliation from her attacker, whom she still sees in the village. She said she knew of five other women he had raped, though she is the only one who reported the crime.

Nationwide, an arrest is made in just 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, according to the Justice Department, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for whites.

In South Dakota, Indians make up 10 percent of the population, but account for 40 percent of the victims of sexual assault. Alaska Natives are 15 percent of that state’s population, but constitute 61 percent of its victims of sexual assault.

The Justice Department did not prosecute 65 percent of the rape cases on Indian reservations in 2011. And though the department said it had mandated extra training for prosecutors and directed each field office to develop its own plan to help reduce violence against women, some advocates for Native American women said they no longer pressed victims to report rapes.

“I feel bad saying that,” said Sarah Deer, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota and an authority on violent crime on reservations. “But it compounds the trauma if you are willing to stand up and testify and they can’t help you.”

Steve Remich for The New York Times

Lisa Marie Iyotte said her rape had never been prosecuted. More Photos »

Despite the low rates of arrests and prosecutions, convicted sexual offenders are abundant on tribal lands. The Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, with about 25,000 people, is home to 99 Class 3 sex offenders, those deemed most likely to commit sex crimes after their release from prison. The Tohono O’odham tribe’s reservation in Arizona, where about 15,000 people live, has 184, according to the Justice Department.

By comparison, Boston, with a population of 618,000, has 252 Class 3 offenders. Minneapolis, with a population of 383,000, has 101, according to the local police.

The agencies responsible for aiding the victims of sexual assault among American Indians are often ill prepared.

The Indian Health Service, for instance, provides exams for rape victims at only 27 of the 45 hospitals it finances and, according to a federal report in 2011, did not keep adequate track of the number of sexual assault victims its facilities treat and lacked an overall policy for treating rape victims. Additionally, the health service has just 73 trained sexual assault examiners.

The Justice Department, which has increased the number of F.B.I. agents and United States attorneys on Indian reservations and is seeking to help the Indian Health Service train more nurses, said combating sexual violence was a priority.

“There’s no quick fix. There’s no one thing that will fix the system,” said Virginia Davis, deputy director for policy development in the department’s Office on Violence Against Women. “We’re taking a systematic approach to this — thinking about different ways to solve the problem.”

In the meantime, the problem persists. Lisa Marie Iyotte, 43, who was raped on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, said prosecutors had never told her why they did not charge the man arrested in that crime. He was later convicted of another rape, and when he was released from prison in 2008 and moved back to the reservation, no one told her, she said. She has not seen him yet.

“When I think about it, I say, ‘What am I going to do?’ ” she said. “I don’t know.”

Nine hundred miles away, in the Navajo Nation, Caroline Antone, 50, an advocate for the reservation’s victims of sexual violence who has herself been raped, said sexual assault was virtually routine in her community.

“I know only a couple of people who have not been raped,” she said. “Out of hundreds.”


Response to New York Times Article... rape of Native Women

Monday, June 4, 2012

Save the Tribal Provisions of VAWA - Call for Members of Congress to support the SAVE Native Women Act

Monday, June 4, 2012
May 29.pdf