Vi Waln: Protecting Indian women and children from violence

President Barack Obama has issued an Executive Proclamation designating the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. He also signed an Executive Proclamation naming April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. We are all responsible for ensuring our Indian women and children are protected from physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or sexual abuse and/or assault.

Most of you are aware that the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute major crimes committed in Indian Country. The District Court of South Dakota is responsible for indicting, prosecuting and sentencing both Indian and non-Indian people who commit a major crime on our reservations. In fact, on the Rosebud Reservation our Lead Tribal Prosecutor has the authority as a Special Assistant United States Attorney to prosecute major crimes committed on tribal land.

Major crimes include sexual assaults and child abuse. In viewing the website of the United States Attorney one can see who was indicted, convicted or pled guilty to a major crime. These crimes include: child abuse, abusive sexual contact with a minor, sexual abuse of a minor, failure to register or update registry as a sex offender, sexual contact with children, aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault of a child, child pornography, sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact of a child and sexual contact with a child by the use of force.

Most of these crimes listed on the webpage were committed against Lakota women or children. There were even some people indicted for driving under the influence of alcohol with a minor in the car. Recently, a man was sentenced to prison time for causing a car crash while he was driving drunk. A small child died as a result of his choice to drive drunk. I know many people on my reservation drive under the influence on a regular basis with children in the vehicle. In my opinion, when you drink and drive with your children in the car you are guilty of child abuse.

I have to admit I am writing about this because someone has to speak out on behalf of our Lakota women and children who are abused or assaulted on a regular basis. Statistics show that one in three Native American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Many of these crimes go unreported or unprosecuted.

Child abuse happens on a regular basis on my reservation. Our children also suffer sexual abuse. In researching the U.S. Attorney’s webpage, I counted 21 indictments, plea agreements, convictions and prison sentences involving the sexual abuse of a minor or child since December 2010.

There is no excuse for sexually abusing a child. Adults who sexually abuse children are evil, in my opinion. I don’t believe being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an excuse for evil and violent behavior. If you choose to use those mind altering substances then you are left with the responsibility for a crime you may commit while drunk or high.

Perhaps the scariest criminals are the ones who commit violent acts or sexually abuse women and children while they are sober. Obviously, they have serious problems if their rage is all it takes to rape a woman or inflict life threatening injuries resulting in the death of a child.

Many of our people are behind bars for the heinous crimes they committed against our women and children. Some of them are still in denial of the crimes they actually committed. That is terrible. Many people say it is the government’s fault that so many of our men are locked up for sex or violent crimes. I say many would not be locked up if they had made a better choice.

Some maintain their innocence but still the court presented enough evidence for a jury to render a conviction. I wasn’t witness to these crimes our people are locked up for so maybe I shouldn’t be writing this. Still, someone has to speak out for the children and women who are now living out their lives with physical, emotional, mental or spiritual scars because of the sexual assault or physical abuse they suffered.

Recently, an indictment was issued against an individual for sexually abusing and having sexual contact with children. Some of these crimes took place twenty years ago. Were you sexually abused by an adult when you were a child or teenager? If so, please contact the police department to report the crime. Your abuser could still be prosecuted if the crime was committed in Indian Country. Remember, if he or she is allowed to remain free other young people may be at risk of becoming a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault.

The United States Code reads in part: “Title 18, Part II, Chapter 213, § 3283. Offenses against children: No statute of limitations that would otherwise preclude prosecution for an offense involving the sexual or physical abuse, or kidnaping, of a child under the age of 18 years shall preclude such prosecution during the life of the child, or for ten years after the offense, whichever is longer.”

In researching for this piece, I saw prison terms ranging from 6 months to 45 years which offenders were sentenced to serve. Some of our people will surely die in jail because of the choice they made to abuse or rape their own Lakota women and children.

I am reminded of the swift justice dealt out in the first known case of violence against a Lakota woman. The story of Pte San Win is about the spiritual maiden who appeared to two men. One of the men had an inappropriate thought about her. Still, she allowed him to approach. When he got close enough he was engulfed in a cloud. When the cloud cleared the maiden remained untouched while all that was left of the violent thinking man was a pile of bones.

Our Lakota women and children are Wakan. They deserve to see their abusers brought to justice.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

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