This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Here is a startling statistic: one in three American-Indian or Alaskan Native women will be raped in her lifetime. Women in these communities are victims of sexual assault at far higher rates than other women. That's a finding in a report issued today by Amnesty International. The report says the perpetrators are most often outsiders - not Native-American men; outsiders who know that little will be done to stop them.

NPR's Laura Sullivan has the details.

LAURA SULLIVAN: Ten years ago, Cindy Pennington joined the Anchorage Police. She was its first female, Native Alaskan officer. She had no idea how many times she'd seen Native women raped and murdered every year.

Ms. CINDY PENNINGTON (Vice Chairwoman, Alaska Native Women Sexual Assault Committee): They weren't just sexually assaulted and somebody pulled a gun on them and shot them and they died instantly. These women were tortured and they were beaten to death. And what I mean beaten, they were punched. They were kicked. They were stomped on over hours until your body just quits. And it was like nobody seemed to care.

SULLIVAN: Amnesty's new report seems to support that. The nonprofit group found cases of rape and abuse of native women on reservations or in Alaska are rarely prosecuted compared to non-Native women. Even today, Pennington says some of the unsolved cases still haunt her, especially one where people came to see the dead body but didn't report it.

Ms. PENNINGTON: Like she isn't - she's really not a human being. It's like she's a dead animal on the road and people just drive by and look.

SULLIVAN: Pennington left the department to found the Alaska Native Women Sexual Assault Committee - a group of police officials and advocates, who try to bring attention to the issue. But not much has changed. More than half the sexual assault in all of Anchorage are still of Native women, even though they make up less than 10 percent of the population.

Ms. PENNINGTON: I think they don't want Native people to exist, and I think they're embarrassed by us that we're still here.

Ms. JACKIE BROWN OTTER(ph) (Resident, Standing Rock Indian Reservation): I'm in McLaughlin, South Dakota. I live on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

SULLIVAN: Jackie Brown Otter lives about 30 miles from the nearest shopping center. The reservation covers 2.3 million acres. There are seven tribal patrol officers. Otter's little sister was raped, kidnapped from her home and murdered six years ago.

Ms. OTTER: Chingkawa Wastewi(ph). That's her Indian name. And that translates in English to Pretty Bird Woman. She smiled and she was well liked and always laughing.

SULLIVAN: It took almost a day for tribal police to arrive when Pretty Bird went missing. Her house was torn apart. A window was broken and bloody bedding was stuffed into the trash bin. It took several more days for the FBI to arrive. Her body was found later, beaten to death along a rural road. Otter opened a shelter for women at Standing Rock in her sister's honor. But the group will run out of funding this month and will probably have to close. And still, the attacks keep coming.

Ms. OTTER: We're so overwhelmed that we can't see beyond the perimeters of it. It's just beyond words for me.

SULLIVAN: The problem is not just the isolated nature of the reservation, which may attract perpetrators, but also the lack of federal prosecution. Tribal police have no authority over non-Native Americans, and the Justice Department takes few Native rape cases.

Mr. LARRY COX (Executive Director, Amnesty International): We were absolutely horrified to find how bad it was.

SULLIVAN: Larry Cox is the executive director of Amnesty.

Mr. COX: There's a tremendous amount of evidence that indicates that Native American women and Alaskan Native women have never been seen really as equal in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the authorities.

SULLIVAN: Jessica Burnett(ph) says that's what she's found, too, on the Otoe-Missouria Reservation in Oklahoma.

Ms. JESSICA BURNETT (Health Center Counselor, Otoe-Missouria Reservation): They get out there and they say this isn't ours. This is county. This is the sheriff. And then the sheriff will come out and then sheriff will say, no, it's not ours, it's tribal.

SULLIVAN: Burnett works as a counselor at the only health center in the area.

Ms. BURNETT: What scares me the most is the acceptance that this is just part of life. I see no light at the end of the tunnel.

SULLIVAN: Burnett says fewer women seem to be coming forward because nothing seems to be done.

Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from