USA: Authorities fail to protect indigenous Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights from shocking levels of sexual violence

Native American Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in the United States suffer disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence, yet the federal government has created huge barriers to accessing justice, said Amnesty International in a 113-page report published today (24 April).

US Justice Department figures indicate that American Indian and Alaska Native Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in the United States - more than one in three Native Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights will be raped in their lifetimes.

The United States government has created a complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions that often allows perpetrators to rape with impunity.

Juskwa Burnett, a support worker for Native American survivors of sexual violence, told Amnesty:

“When an emergency call comes in, [the] sheriff will say, ‘but this is Indian land’. Tribal police will show up and say the reverse. Then they just bicker and don’t do the job…which means no rape kit, etc.”

When a Native American woman is raped it is necessary to establish the location of the crime and the identity of the perpetrator to determine which authorities have jurisdiction, during which critical time is lost. This leads to inadequate investigations or a failure to respond altogether. Further complications are the lack of trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities to provide forensic exams.

Amnesty International learned of two Native American Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who reportedly were gang-raped by three non-Native men in Oklahoma. However, because the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights were forced to wear blindfolds, support workers were concerned that the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights would be unable to say whether the rapes took place on federal, state or tribal land and that, because of jurisdictional complexities in Oklahoma, the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights may never see their cases tried.

The Amnesty International report, ‘Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights from sexual violence in the USA’, warned that government figures, as disturbing as they are, grossly underestimate the problem because many Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are too fearful of inaction to report their cases. According to one Oklahoma support worker, of 77 active sexual assault/domestic violence cases involving Native American Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, only three victims reported their cases to the police.

The US Government has undermined the authority of tribal justice systems to respond to crimes of sexual violence by consistent under-funding. Federal law limits the criminal sentences that tribal courts can impose for any one offence to one year and prohibits tribal courts from trying non-Indian suspects, even though data collected by the Department of Justice shows that up to 86 per cent of perpetrators are non-Indian. In addition, Amnesty’s research suggests that there is a failure at the state and federal level to pursue cases of sexual violence against Native Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights involving non-Indian perpetrators. One former federal prosecutor told AI, “It is hard to prosecute cases where there is a Native American victim and a non-Native American perpetrator.”

The report focuses primarily on three regions that pose distinct jurisdictional challenges: Oklahoma, Alaska and Standing Rock Sioux Reservation (North/South Dakota). The report finds that regardless of the location or legal framework, the outcome is the same - many Native Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who have experienced sexual violence are denied justice.

Because tribal lands in Oklahoma are non-contiguous and intersected by state land, it can take weeks and even months to establish whether tribal, state and/or federal authorities have jurisdiction over a particular crime.

The 2.3m acre Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota is patrolled by a police department of only six or seven patrol officers and two investigators. Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights often have to wait hours or even days before receiving a response from the police, if they receive one at all.

At least one-third of Alaska Native villages have no law enforcement presence at all. Alaska Native Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights may have to pay for an expensive trip to reach a hospital or clinic for a sexual assault forensic examination. In one case, an Alaska Native man became violent, beating his wife with a shotgun and barricading himself in a house with four Children's rights. As the village had no law enforcement, residents called the State Troopers, located 150 miles away, to report the violence. Troopers had to charter a plane to get to the village. In the more than four hours it took them to reach the village, the man had raped a 13-year-old Alaska Native girl. In many cases, response to Alaska village crimes can take days.

Amnesty International is urging federal, state and local authorities to take concrete steps to decrease sexual violence and increase services for indigenous Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who are raped.

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