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Taking Action to Address Sexual Assault in Indian Country

June 13, 2012
The following post appears courtesy of Tracy Toulou, Director of the Office of Tribal Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice and and Yvette Roubideaux, Director of the Indian Health Service. The New York Times recently published an article on the problem of sexual assault of Native American women. The article raises awareness about the higher rates of sexual assault on Native American women and the challenges of getting treatment for victims, as well as the barriers to prosecuting and convicting those who perpetrate these crimes. We at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) share the common goals of building safe and healthy American Indian and Alaska Native communities and reducing the unacceptably high rates of violence against women. The Department of Justice, working with IHS as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies, has responded to the call for equal justice in Indian Country with substantial action. At the start of this Administration, Attorney General Eric Holder established a Department-wide initiative on tribal public safety, and issued a clear directive to every U.S. Attorney serving Indian Country: Meet with the tribes in your district and develop operational plans to improve public safety. Plans are now in place and guiding our efforts to reduce crime through aggressive law enforcement, as well as focused prevention and intervention efforts. One of the most important improvements involving public safety is a substantial increase in federal-tribal cooperation. Our attorneys meet regularly with tribal prosecutors to discuss cases and share intelligence. In fact, some of these tribal prosecutors are now working in U.S. Attorney's offices to help ensure that cases do not fall between the jurisdictional cracks. Last year, IHS put into place its first comprehensive sexual assault treatment policy, and has consulted with tribes on its implementation. The IHS Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative, now in its second year is providing new resources, staff, training, outreach and supplies/equipment for IHS and tribal facilities. IHS is also establishing Sexual Assault Response Teams and training Sexual Assault Examiners to properly treat victims of sexual assault. The Department of Justice and IHS are collaborating on training for evidence collection and with the Department of Interior on implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act. IHS and DOJ are working with other federal agencies in partnership with tribes to prevent and address sexual assault in Indian communities. The Administration has also expressed its strong support for the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization that protects all victims and includes key tribal provisions to strengthen the ability of tribes to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence and reach victims before it’s too late. Making Indian Country a safer and healthier place for everyone is a shared responsibility. Action is being taken to address the problem of sexual assaults, and although much work must still be done to fully address the severe levels of sexual assault in Tribal nations, our efforts are yielding results for women and girls in Tribal communities. For more information on IHS programs to address sexual assault and violence against women, visit ihs.gov. For more information in DOJ efforts to strengthen public safety in Indian country, visit justice.gov/tribal.

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