Obama Signs Act to Empower Native Americans to Fight Rape

One in three Native American women will be raped at least once in her lifetime. And that’s why President Obama’s signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act today is so vital. Tribes will now have the right – and the resources – to investigate and prosecute rapes perpetrated by non-Natives on tribal lands.

For 500 years, rape has been used as a tool of conquest and an act of war against Native women. It carries with it all of the perverted power of violence that every rape survivor endures, with the added yokes of colonialism and cultural annihilation.

Sadly, not much has changed.

One in three. At least once.

Think for a moment about the implications. We know that rape survivors are often reluctant to report the attack, for fear of not being believed; of being told that they “asked for it”; of being humiliated and shamed; of reprisals.

But in Indian Country, rape survivors bear additional burdens. They must report their crimes to federal law enforcement authorities, whom long and hard experience has told them to distrust. Cultural sensitivity is often nonexistent. Often, the law enforcement officers, investigators, prosecutors and health examiners are white men, and for many Native women cultural traditions may militate against talking to them about such intimate matters. So when you read that one in three Native women will be raped at least once in her lifetime, you can be assured that those numbers are underreported at even greater rates than in the general population.

Here’s a little context:

• Native Americans are more than twice as likely, compared to all other ethnic groups, to experience some form of sexual assault.

• 90 percent of Native women who report being raped also report being physically battered in other ways during the rape, compared to 74 percent of rape survivors in the population as a whole.

• 50 percent of Native women report experiencing other physical injuries in addition to the rape itself, compared to 30 percent in the population as a whole.

• 34 percent of Native women report that a weapon was used during the commission of the rape-a number more than three times that of the general population.

• While most rapes occur within racial groups, this is not true for Native women. More than 86 percent of the offenders are non-Indians, and more than 70 percent are white.

This last statistic matters a great deal.

Because until today, Native women raped by a non-Indian assailant had virtually no recourse. With rare exceptions, only federal law enforcement authorities have had jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute non-Native offenders on tribal lands. And historically, federal authorities have cared little about such cases: Federal authorities routinely decline to prosecute more than 50 percent of all violent crimes committed in Indian Country; the rate of declination is much higher for sexual assault cases.

Today that will change. The Tribal Law and Order Act will substantially expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Native offenders for crimes of sexual violence, and providing desperately needed resources to tribes to help them prosecute such cases. Introduced in 2009 in the House by Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) and in the Senate by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), the legislation is a watershed in tribal law. Provisions include:

• Deputizes tribal police to arrest and prosecute non-Natives who commit crimes on tribal land

• Provides tribal police with access to National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and other federal databases containing criminal records and other information

• Requires the Department of Justice to maintain records on all declinations and to share that information, as well as any evidence, with tribal authorities

• Requires federal officials to turn over to tribal authorities any documents and testimony that may aid tribal court prosecutions

• Raises the maximum sentence that tribal courts can impose on an offender from one to three years

• Provides tribal police with targeted training in evidence collection and interviewing of sexual and domestic violence survivors

• Requires the Indian Health Service (IHS) to implement consistent protocols at all facilities for treating sexual assault survivors

• Reauthorizes and enhances programs to support tribal police, courts, and corrections programs

• Provides programs for at-risk young people on reservations.

Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s an enormously important first step.

Today, we who have worked in our Native communities with survivors of sexual violence have reason to celebrate. Come and dance with us.

NOTE:  This post first appeared at Ms.blog, the blog of Ms. Magazine, here.

Introducing My Sister Friends’ House

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I know times are tough right now; a lot of people are out of work, others are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. Prices are rising on the necessities.

But I am asking you to stop and see if you have $20 or $10 or even $5 to spare for My Sister Friends’ House – Mita Maske Ti Ki, a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault shelter for women and children.

They have lost their grant funding and face closure by September if they don’t get enough funding to continue to operate as a shelter. They need $11,000 by August 31st to operate through September.

The end goal is $35,000 by September 30th – three months of operating expenses as they apply for grant funding and get established out on their own.

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How This Happened

Mita Maske Ti Ki has been helping women and children escape from Domestic Violence and sexual assault in Sioux Falls and neighboring communities since 2000. Their clientele has been primarily Native American, up to 85% of the women they see identify as Native American. They have operated under the auspices of other Domestic Violence prevention programs… the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assualt (SDCADVSA) and more recently, Project Safe.  However, the grants used by these organizations to fund Mita Maske Ti Ki have run out and, like so many social services in this day and age, have not been renewed.

It’s not like these organizations don’t want to fund Mita Maske Ti Ki – Chris Jongelingwith the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SDCADVSA) emailed me today to let me know:

Mita Maske Ti Ki (My Sister’s Friend House) ihas fulfilled a burgeoning need in Sioux Falls.  Many Native Americans in South Dakota do not live on reservations, and many women who have experienced domestic violence move to Sioux Falls because of its larger housing and job market…  

…This program is not supported by State funding because there are so many programs and so little money that helping Mita would constitute a reduction in funding for other domestic violence programs.  Mita was funded by a private Bush grant for several years, and when that private funding ran out there was a federal grant available to keep it afloat for one more year.  

Both Project Safe and SDCADVSA want to see Mita Maske Ti Ki survive and thrive – they just don’t have the means to make it happen.

So Mita Maske Ti Ki, My Sister Friends’ House, is having to go it alone. They have started filing for grants, set up a temporary board of directors (Georgia Little Shield, Director of Pretty Bird Woman House is on the Board of Directors). They have also applied for 501 (c) (3) status as a non-profit but they have not received approval on that yet.

They have applied for several grants which are extremely competitive. There is no certainty that My Sister Friends’ House will get any funding at all from them at this time, but if we bloggers, readers and commenters, can fund them through the next three months, that buys them the time to get more permanent funding.

They do have a house…

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Even if it does have some problems…

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And is kind of crumbling a little bit (winters are harsh in South Dakota)…

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But it also has a some very positive things to offer – like a playground for the kids.

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This modest house can shelter up to twelve women at a time and is full all the time. In fact, they often have to turn women away, referring them elsewhere because they do not have room. They do education and support services with the women seek shelter their and provide referrals to services beyond the scope of what My Sister Friends’ House can currently offer.

Meet the Team

My Sister Friends’ House has a two man woman crew – Meet Jolana and Kim (they sent me the photos and indicated it was okay to post them – Kim is very expecting in this picture and now has a child and a shelter to look after).

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Despite their youthful appearances, Jolana and Kim have run My Sister Friends’ House for 3 years. Right now, the services they offer are pretty bare bones… basic domestic violence education, shelter and referrals. But they have big dreams for My Sister Friends’ House:

  • Daycare so that women can look for jobs without having children in tow
  • Offer women training for job interviews and how to find jobs
  • Provide assistance in finding housing
  • Build a strong relationship with the community (police, social services, other shelters) so that they can maximize every potential aid for their clients
  • Education in Domestic Violence prevention, parenting and more
  • This is a chance to help them survive to pursue those dreams. Please, if you can afford to do so:

    DONATE – button is in upper right hand corner of webpage.

    Checks can go to:

    Mita Maske Ti Ki

    (My Sister Friends’ House)

    PO Box 2141

    Sioux Falls, SD 57101

    Thank you.

    For more information on Native American Women and the horrifying situation they are in due to the confusing mass of conflicting laws please read:

    Quick Summary of Problems

    Full Amnesty International report on the issues  

    Help Another Native American Women’s Shelter?

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    If not, just skip this diary. It will annoy the hell out of you.

    KELO in Sioux Falls did the introduction to this situation for me:

    Sioux Falls shelter for women and children who have been abused is at risk of shutting down.

    The shelter has been running on grants and federal funding since 2000, but those grants are coming to an end. Now the director says the women at the shelter may have to move out.

    The Mita Maske Ti Ki shelter, which means “My Sister Friends’ House,” houses about a dozen women and children who have left abusive homes and are trying to turn their lives around. But with their funding running out at the end of August, those victims of domestic violence could soon lose their sanctuary.

    Link to the Shelter blog where you can donate

    When Georgia Littleshield from Pretty Bird Woman House called me and asked me to do this my response was: OH, HELL NO.

    A lot of people really got very resentful and tired of the fundraising diaries for PBWH. It was exhausting to do that fundraising drive for the house. You have no idea how much time this took behind the scenes – it was all Pretty Bird, all the time.

    This time round it’s worse. It’s election season. People want to donate to candidates, not causes. I’m one of them.

    Also, I really wanted to move from the bucket brigade putting out fires to legislative solutions, really solving the problems facing Native American Women.

    But Georgia said: if you don’t, who will?

    And Jolana, the director of My Sister Friends’ House said: I don’t want to close. We help so many women.

    And I read Teacherken’s diary:All of us, starting right now.

    And I can’t go to sleep knowing that somewhere, someone could have been helped, but I didn’t bother.

    So, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Mita Maske Ti Ki.

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    The goal is simple: $35,000. We buy them three months to land a new grant. The South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence is helping them, as is Pretty Bird Woman House and other shelters.

    More later. I have to go to bed.

    Building Momentum For Change: Ending the Maze of Injustice

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    Will Native American women finally get equal protection under the law?

    Right now Native American women on reservations are 3 times as likely to be raped as a white woman. Due to an insanely complex series of jurisdictional issues, limited law enforcement, minimal political will and racism, perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence against Native American women often commit their crimes with impunity, knowing they will likely never face prosecution. All of this was documented in sickening detail last year by Amnesty International’s report Maze of Injustice

    Today, Senator Byron Dorgan introduced the Tribal Law and Order Act in the Senate.

    The legislation is designed to boost law enforcement efforts by providing tools to tribal justice officials to fight crime in their own communities, improving coordination between law enforcement agencies, and increasing accountability standards.

    Will this legislation stop the violence?

    The Tribal Law and Order Act has three primary goals:

    First, it would make it easier for tribal police… to arrest non-Indians who commit federal crimes on tribal lands, including sexual assault. Second, it would increase the sentencing power of tribal courts by allowing them to put convicted tribal members behind bars for three years instead of one – and even send them to federal prison. Third, the bill would increase accountability for U.S. attorneys by requiring them to keep a record of every case on tribal lands they decline to prosecute.

    Truthfully, to me, these sound like baby steps in the right direction. Allowing tribal police to arrest non-Indian perpetrators is a start… but how about letting tribal prosecutors actually be the ones to bring charges?

    Right now, if a perpetrator is convicted of a crime in a tribal court, the maximum sentence the tribal court can impose is one year in jail. Murder, rape, torture… a maximum of one year in jail. This bill will expand that to three years – an improvement to be sure, but three years for rape? Three years for murder? Still very weak.

    Georgia Little Shield, Director of Pretty Bird Woman House spoke about the importance of that final accountability plank for US attorneys with NPR:

    “I sit with women who cry and are mad because the feds didn’t want to pick up the case. This bill, I think, would give women more of a right, that the prosecutor’s got to be more accountable for federal jurisdiction on these cases. And he’s going to have to be accountable for the cases he doesn’t prosecute,” Littleshield said.

    Overall, the bill looks like a promising step forward. But the reality is that this is a journey of a thousand miles, and this is just one step. There is much more to do.

    Props to the bills cosponsors: Senators Murkowski, Biden, Domenici, Baucus, Bingaman, Lieberman, Kyl, Johnson, Smith, Cantwell, Thune, Tester. Who the hell would have guessed I’d ever give props to Murkowski and Lieberman? To her credit, Murkowski has actually seemed to be somewhat proactive on these issues.

    Hat tip to Pager from Daily Kos. I would have missed this without her.

    Audio of the NPR story is right here.

    How To Rape A Woman And Get Away With It

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    This title is not an exaggeration or misstatement, although I really wish it were. I did not go to Netroots Nation to learn that it was possible to rape a woman, right here in the United States and walk away with absolutely no consequences to the rapist. But that’s what I learned in a panel discussion on Friday morning.

    Come over the fold and I’ll tell you exactly how this happens – and you can take an action, a small first step towards ending this nightmare.

    How to rape a woman and get away with it – a step by step guide:

    NOTE: this method works best for white perpetrators.

    1. Go to an Indian reservation.

    2. Choose your victim.

    3. Rape her.

    4. Leave the reservation.

    At this point the police may get involved. This is not a problem for the rapist at all; in fact, it is kind of an additional rape of the victim, a two-for-one violation. Let me illustrate how the police investigation will likely go down:

    A rape victim sits on a Indian Health Services clinic bed as the police discuss the situation:

    Tribal officer to local white police: The perpetrator is white, I don’t have jurisdiction. Do you?

    Local police: Nope, the victim is Native American. I don’t have jurisdiction. How about you Mr. State Trooper?

    State Trooper: Not my problem. According to Public Law 280 I have no jurisdiction. This is a tribal or federal matter.

    Tribal Officer: But there aren’t any FBI agents on the reservation right now.

    Local police: Well, the victim will just have to wait until one comes.

    State Trooper: This Indian Health Service clinic doesn’t even have a rape kit, so there won’t be any forensic evidence.

    Local police: I guess this is the end of it. (Tips his hat to the rape victim) You have a nice day ma’am.

    Tribal officer, Local Policeman and State Trooper exit.

    Victim: Isn’t anyone going to do anything?

    Indian Health Service physician assistant: Hey, I can give you some ibuprofen before I send you home!

    Georgia LittleShield, Director of Pretty Bird Woman House knows all about this. It happened to her daughter years ago. The rapist is free, has never faced charges and is on the reservation – where he can encounter and threaten his victim. No consequences, not a single one.

    Let me tell you something: perpetrators, predators and sex offenders know all about this! They target Native American women! They travel to reservations to choose their victims! It is rape tourism, right here in Oklahoma, South Dakota, Alaska and any place where the confusing mess of jurisdictional issues allow perpetrators to hide.

    Are there even words to describe this evil?

    There is something you can do right now to help:

    Use Amnesty International USA’s form to contact the newly appointed Director of Indian Health Services Robert G. McSwain and tell him to make sure IHS has free rape kits available for victims of sexual assault – CLICK HERE TO CONTACT IHS DIRECTOR ROBERT MCSWAIN

    Join Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women Campaign

    Small things, but it is a start.

    Get Informed:

    Read/Download the original Amnesty International Report: Maze of Injustice and the recent updates.

    Visit Pretty Bird Woman House website and read the amazing story of how this women’s shelter was helped by the netroots!

    A Brief Personal Note

    I know there are other issues of great importance. I know we must elect Barack Obama President of the United States of America. Our top short term policy priority must be to end the illegal war in Iraq. Our top long term priority must be to halt global warming.  

    But, like torture, this is simply evil. It must be stopped.

    Our panel on this topic at Netroot Nations was a failure. We only had at most fifteen people there. The topic is one most people prefer to avoid and I did not promote it enough.  

    But we have to speak up. We must. This is not a case where we simply teach Native Americans how to blog and suddenly they have their own voice to speak on these issues. Many reservations have only very limited internet access – pretty much only dialup. They don’t even have computers in most cases!!

    Someone has to help give these women a voice. Amnesty International has done a tremendous amount of work on this. But we need more. Please, help me with this. Spread the word.

    As a result of this diary I

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    Pretty Bird Woman House Update: YOU are buying THIS house!

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    I thought I’d give you an update on what was going on with the fundraiser for this shelter. Georgia Little Shield, the director, has used the money we have raised so far to place a bid on the house you see in the photos below.

    We need donations urgently right now since there was only enough money for a really low bid, so that makes things still a bit tenuous. And then there will be closing costs and a security system. But even though we haven’t sealed the deal yet, we’re coming very close!

    The amazing part of this project is that the individual efforts of a bunch of bloggers are making such a big difference to a group of women. This is what a community is really about.  And were else can you see donations doing something so huge so fast?  

    Here are the photos of the house. Isn’t it great!

    Front View:

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    Living Room:

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    Kitchen, View 1

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    Kitchen, View 2

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    Dining Room:

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    There is also a huge basement, which will house a children’s playroom, and a small thrift shop to support the shelter, and has great general potential.

    The next large item is a security system. With security cameras. A good one (which is a must in this situation) is at least $7,000 installed. And then we’ll need a fence. That’s going to be another large chunk of change. Since this is a one story house, and we don’t want batterers to try to get into those bedrooms at night, the fence is vital in addition to the security system. We don’t want a repeat of the theft and vandalism either.

    If you haven’t donated yet, you can make a huge difference right now because they’re at a crucial point in the house purchase process, and things are still a little shaky. Go here to donate and get all the info you could possibly want on the shelter if you have missed the story up until now.

    There will be needs after the house purchase, which is why I am keeping the goal at $70,000 despite the fact that of the 2 houses available, they’re bidding on the lower-priced one.

    Because of the prior theft they’re also going to need a TV, VCR, DVD player, and the entertainment center to put them on. Boy it really sucks that they got so much stuff stolen! They’re also going to need a washer and dryer, as well as new dressers, 2 more bunk beds, and 2 more double beds, since more women and children will be housed here than in the other shelter. They also will need extra couches and chairs because the living room is so big, and the outside of the house needs a new coat of paint.

    Those items are all important, but the money to seal the deal for the house and buy the security system is the most urgent.

    So please everyone, keep passing the word. We are SO close.

    I want to raise $10K more by Christmas. If the sellers accept the current bid that much will cover closing costs and the security system so the women can move right in. If they don’t accept the bid, it will allow them to increase it slightly and still cover closing costs. In any case, we’re SO close to this being a huge netroots coup for the shelter!

    P.S. The shelter also just received another federal grant. If we can get this house, that grant will pay for utilities, food and other expenses. It’s also funding another advocate. So, we’ve got great long-term viability here, we just need to help them with their infrastructure! They are also planning a domestic violence conference for April that will be free for all Standing Rock residents. Georgia just never quits, even in the middle of all this house chaos!

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    (by Tigana)