Thank you, Vice Chairman Coolidge Jefferson, for that introduction. And thank you and the Crow Nation for your warm hospitality. Thanks also to the Indian Health Service, not only for hosting us today, but for running this important facility for the community. And thanks to U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter for welcoming me to his district.
I am here as part of a visit to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations, and I bring with me greetings from Attorney General Holder. I also have a message: Addressing crime in Indian country is a top priority for this Department of Justice and this Administration. We have accomplished much together, but we still have much work to do.
That’s why I’m pleased to stand with the U.S. Attorney to announce an initiative to support Sexual Assault Response Teams, or “SARTs,” on every reservation in Montana. This program can be a model for how the Department and its federal and tribal partners respond to sexual assault victims – with care, compassion, and commitment.
We hope that establishing SART teams on every Montana reservation will bring healing and justice to victims of sexual violence – the kind of help that will also strengthen the faith and confidence that native women have in their criminal justice system.
As you know all too well, violent crime rates in Indian country are now two, four, and – in some cases – ten times the national average.
Sexual violence against Native women can be devastating to Native communities. Department of Justice statistics show that one-in-three Native women can expect to be a victim of rape in her lifetime, and American Indians are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault compared to all races.
Think about those numbers for a moment.
Compounding these tragic figures is the fact that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with recent statistics indicating that 70% of sexual assaults are not reported. And one of the major contributing factors to underreporting is a lack of faith in criminal justice systems.
We must work together to strengthen the trust in our tribal and federal systems because the status quo is, quite simply, unacceptable.
What can we do about it?
We can listen and learn from one another. We can assess our systems. We can duplicate best practices. We can fashion community-based teams that can address sexual assault in a culturally appropriate manner. And most of all, we can ensure that each time a victim seeks help, they receive a timely, compassionate, coordinated, and thorough response. The SART initiative that we are announcing today is a positive first step in the right direction.
The U.S. Attorney will provide further details about the SART initiative in just a moment. I am proud to say that this Administration’s commitment to Indian country extends well beyond this program.
In June 2009, Attorney General Holder launched a Department-wide initiative to enhance public safety in Indian country. Significant progress has been made since then in fulfilling his vision of working with American Indian and Native Alaskan villages to build safe and healthy communities.
We’ve increased the number of federal prosecutors and victim services personnel, and we’ve launched a national training program to give federal, state, and tribal criminal justice officials the skills and the authority to respond more effectively to crime.
And in the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, the Department has proposed legislation that would close legal gaps and give tribal courts and law enforcement officials the ability to crack down on violence against women. It would also strengthen federal sentences for serious domestic violence crimes.
We encourage Congress to come together and pass a bipartisan measure that protects all victims. VAWA has improved each time it has been reauthorized, and this time should be no different.
And now, I’d like to introduce Mike Cotter, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana.