July 24, 2007

Emily Hellewell, NPR


July 24, 2007; Washington, D.C. – NPR News correspondent Laura Sullivan reports on how one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetime and how more than 80 percent of their assailants are non-Native American men, in a two-part series airing on All Things Considered, July 25-26.

Reporting from tribal lands in South Dakota and Oklahoma, Sullivan explores the factors behind these occurrences – a percentage that far surpasses statistics for any other group of women. She notes that tribal police are powerless to prosecute these attackers under current law and with too few state and federal officers available to patrol, these cases of rape often go unreported and uninvestigated and are rarely prosecuted.

For stations and broadcast times, visit NPR.org/stations. The report will be available at NPR.org starting at 7pm EST.

At the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and Chickasaw land outside of Ada, Oklahoma, Sullivan interviewed rape victims, their families and women’s rights advocates. She also spoke with tribal police, local law enforcement and the Department of Justice to understand the jurisdictional limitations of law enforcement that perpetuate this cycle of abuse. Tribal police cannot charge non-Indians with crimes on tribal lands – only the U.S. Attorney's office can – and tribal police say there are far too few federal officers able to respond to sexual assault crimes.

Among those profiled are Leslie Ironroad, who was 20 years old and living in Standing Rock when she was raped and beaten by five men; she died two weeks later. No charges were filed against Ironroad’s attackers and the authorities who could have investigated – the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the FBI – did not do so, despite Ironroad giving a statement to a BIA officer. Ironroad’s friend Rhea Archambault notes, “I heard what she said. She named all the people that were there, the ones that were hitting her, the ones that were fighting her, she named everybody. What more else?” Gerald White, the chief of the BIA police department on Standing Rock, claims no record of Ironroad’s case. “I’m sure she passed away but as far as her being involved as a victim of sexual assault, I couldn't find anything to support that as far as that happening here,” he says. “You know, if a person doesn't report, then how can we investigate it if we don't know about it?”

The BIA said it had reopened Ironroad’s case two weeks after NPR’s requests for documents and interviews.

Sullivan joined NPR's National Desk in December 2004, covering issues of crime and punishment. She first reported on the high occurrence of rape against Native American women on All Things Considered in April 2007. Recently, she won the American Women in Radio and Television’s Gracie Award for "Outstanding News Series" for her report on the state of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon news magazine, is hosted by Melissa Block, Michele Norris, and Robert Siegel and reaches 11.5 million listeners weekly. Information about Sullivan’s two-part report will be available at NPR.org.