Criminal Justice

Justice System Offers 'Tepid Responses' to Sexual Assaults of American Indian Women

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American Indian women experience high rates of sexual assaults, yet there are too few resources to help document the crimes and find the offenders.

The New York Times illustrates the problem with the case of a 19-year-old Alaska Native woman who called police to report a rape and got voice mail. She left a message, she says, but her call was never returned.

Many Indian Health Service hospitals have don’t have enough sexual assault kits and too few specially trained nurses for rape exams, according to the Times. “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,” the story says.

The Times cites these Justice Department statistics:

• One in three American Indian women have been raped or have been victims of an attempted rape, a rate that is more than twice the national average.

• Arrests are made in 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, 35 percent of the assaults reported by black women and 32 percent reported by white women.

The story says the sexual assault response became an issue in the debate over reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. A Senate version would give tribal courts new powers to prosecute some non-Indians. Opponents say the expansion of tribal authority is dangerous; the provision was not included in a House version of the legislation.

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