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Alcohol-Facilitated Sexual Assault in Indian Country: Services and Support for Victims

OVC and the Office on Violence Against Women collaborated to produce this four-video series, designed for criminal justice personnel, victim advocates, and allied professionals who work with victims of sexual assault in Indian Country. This public awareness video addresses various types of support for sexual assault victims in Indian Country. 

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SARAH DEER, JD, WILLIAM MITCHELL COLLEGE OF LAW, MUSCOGEE CREEK NATION OF OKLAHOMA: In the past 15 years, I would say I've talked to over 400 Native women who've been raped. Sexual assault is so common in some tribal communities that you will hear women say, you know, "I don't know anyone in my community who has not been a victim." It's not a matter of if you're raped, it's a matter of when.

MARC LEBEAU, SENIOR FORENSIC SCIENTIST, FBI LABORATORY, VIRGINIA: We talk about the so—called "date—rape" drugs, but by far, the number one drug that's used to facilitate assaults is alcohol.

RUSSELL W. STRAND, CHIEF, US ARMY MILITARY POLICE, BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES EDUCATION AND TRAINING DIVISION: We typically only think of females, you know, being the victims of alcohol—facilitated sexual assaults, but many men fall to that same pattern of victimization, especially with alcohol. Alcohol is used by most sex offenders for two main reasons: one, it's readily available, and two, it's socially acceptable.

TATEWIN MEANS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, OGLALA SIOUX TRIBE, SISSETON WAHPETON DAKOTA AND OGLALA LAKOTA: Domestic violence, sexual assault—those are not traditional to our nations. You can point to numerous different factors, you know—colonization, the boarding school era—all of these historical traumas that have happened to our Nations and that have shaped our evolution to where we are today.

TERRA ABBOTT, RN, ACUTE CARE UNIT, NORTON SOUND HEALTH CORPORATION, NOME ESKIMO COMMUNITY: A lot of my friends, family members, have endured some kind of trauma, whether it was domestic violence, sexual assault, substance abuse, even mental health conditions. It was a very hush-hush issue, and it wasn't talked about.

TATEWIN MEANS: We do have to acknowledge all of those historical traumas to figure out how to address them and then move forward in a positive direction.

SARAH DEER: One of the biggest myths is that when alcohol is involved in sexual assault, it's a spontaneous event. But I think in reality we see cases where there's definitely some planning involved. They know that, for instance, this particular young woman has some challenges. Perhaps she's been abused as a child. Perhaps she has struggled herself with substance abuse or comes from a home where alcohol is used frequently. And they target her.

RUSSELL STRAND: That intoxication not only allows the offender to take advantage and make that victim more vulnerable, but it also gives them a smoke screen: "Well, I was drinking, too. We were both drunk. It was just drunk sex."

SARAH DEER: The most important service that can be provided to a victim who was assaulted while intoxicated is confidential advocacy. You can go talk to somebody and get information and get support without the fear that everybody in the community will hear your story. Having that service available allows the victim to consider all their options. And one of those options is to report the crime.

TATEWIN MEANS: Prosecution is a vital component. It gives the victim some sense of justice that they were believed, they were listened to, and they were important.

ANGIE WALKER, VICTIM WITNESS COORDINATOR, WINNEBAGO TRIBAL COURT, WINNEBAGO TRIBE OF NEBRASKA: That's the number one thing is, "I believe you and what you're saying," and not judge them right off in the beginning, because that's what happens in a lot of times, you know, with people.

WOMAN: Okay, ladies. Introductions...

SARAH DEER: When Native women are in a place where they can talk about sexual assault, and somebody says, "What happened to you? You know, how did that happen?" And you'll see the response is, "Well, which time?"

MISTY LAKOTA, TRIBAL INVESTIGATOR, BIA, OGLALA LAKOTA SIOUX: In the Native American community, in our spirit, we want to be whole. We want to walk in balance. We have to help make that individual whole and hold the perpetrator accountable.

JASON LAWRENCE, BIA CHIEF OF POLICE, RED BAND, CHIPPEWA INDIAN: For me, when I interview a victim, I want to give them space, I want to be able to let them know that it's okay not to, you know, to relive everything at the moment. And I'd want the victim to know that we support them and we have services for them.

ANGIE WALKER: Sometimes our victims don't feel comfortable, so I'll go see the victim, and then I'll meet with the family, also, if they're there. If they don't know me, all I have to say is, "I'm Angie. I'm the Wihu." And I'll tell them my parents—"This is my mom, this is my dad," or "This is my grandma, my grandpa," and that I'm here, you know, I work at the court. And then they'll say, "Oh, okay. Well, come in."

TERRA ABBOTT: I am the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Coordinator for Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome. When a patient comes in, I usually have a patient advocate come in who hooks them up with the right resources, whether they need a shelter, clothes, food, any counseling. And usually I give them a medical forensic exam and prophylactically treat them for pregnancy and STIs.

MISTY LAKOTA: Crimes such as these, they're pretty traumatic and they don't just affect the victim; they affect everybody. It affects the tribe, the extended families of the individuals involved. It hurts a lot of people, because the community is so small and close—knit that the families know each other.

SARAH DEER: It's really important that tribal leaders express the philosophy that this kind of behavior, this sexually exploitive behavior, is not keeping with tribal tradition. It's not acceptable under tribal law, and we have a policy of believing survivors and supporting survivors. And that message coming from the top, I think, is critical.

ANGIE WALKER: I want the word to get out that, hey, we're serious. We're...we're gonna do something, you know. We're gonna—we want this to end.

Date Created: June 8, 2020