Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West and U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter Announce Pilot Initiative to Address Sexual Assault on Montana Reservations

CROW AGENCY, Mont. – Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West today joined U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter and Vice-Chairman of the Crow Nation Calvin Coolidge Jefferson to announce a multi-agency collaboration with tribal governments to establish sexual assault response teams (SARTs) in the six Montana reservations under federal jurisdiction.

The SART initiative in Montana is a pilot initiative stemming from the Justice Department’s commitment to build safe and healthy communities in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.  SART teams, which could include federal and tribal prosecutors, victim specialists, advocates, tribal agencies and programs, local and federal law enforcement, and health care representatives will meet at least once monthly to address incidences of sexual assault that arise on each reservation and determine the best way to address each one.  Each community will compose a team that reflects individual community needs.

Teams will be established on the six reservations under federal jurisdiction within the next six months.  The teams will meet monthly to address incidences of sexual assault that arise on each reservation and determine the best way to address each one.  The SART team will exist to provide culturally appropriate, timely, coordinated and thorough care to victims of sexual assault.  

“Sexual violence against native women is one of the most devastating threats to native communities,” said Acting Associate Attorney General West.  “It’s also an underreported crime.  We hope this effort to establish SART teams in each Montana reservation will bring the kind of help, healing and justice to victims of sexual violence that will also strengthen the faith and confidence that native women have in their criminal justice system.”

“I commend the efforts of those who have worked to develop a culturally appropriate sexual assault response team, or SART, that meets the unique needs of the Crow people,” said Crow Tribe Vice-Chairman Jefferson.  “My hope is that with a formalized SART on the Crow Reservation, our mothers and sisters will have access to justice and to recovery from being victims of these types of deplorable crimes.  I want to encourage victims, survivors and their family members to come forward, to offer support to each other in the pursuit of justice and healing.”

“Together we can provide compassionate and innovative care to sexual assault survivors,” said U.S. Attorney Cotter.  “I challenge the SARTs to not merely be reactive but also consider ways to intervene before the sexual assault occurs – through education and outreach.  I am hopeful that the presence of SARTs on Montana reservations will provide another tool to improve intervention and care for sexual assault victims.”

American Indian and Alaska Native women are raped at rates higher than any other race. Despite the alarming rates, sexual assault is still the most underreported crime.  Under the pilot project in Montana, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will work with tribal nations to develop culturally appropriate programs and adapt existing response models to create appropriate responses to sexual assault.  SART establishes a multidisciplinary team that collaborates on the response to sexual assault cases.  The team also adopts coordinated policies and procedures for the investigation, prosecution and provision of services in sexual assault cases.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana will be a resource for specific protocols, training opportunities and model memorandums of understanding (MOUs).

The SART initiative includes collaboration between the Department of Justice, Indian Health Service (IHS), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and other federal agencies in partnership with tribes to increase services to victims of sexual assault in Montana by providing training opportunities for first responders.  In April 2012, IHS sponsored a regional SART training in Billings, Mont., with participation from the Crow/Northern Cheyenne Hospital, Rocky Boy Health Clinic, Browning Hospital, Fort Peck IHS Service Unit and Crow Tribal Domestic Violence Program.  IHS will host Sexual Assault Examiner training in Billings in July 2012, and will also make forensic equipment, such as digital cameras, available to all IHS and Tribal hospitals in 2012.  The Department of Justice and IHS are collaborating on training for evidence collection and with the Department of the Interior on implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act.

Participating reservations include the Blackfeet, Rocky Boy’s, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck, Crow and Northern Cheyenne.

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