When a sexual assault happens to a Native woman, especially by a non-Native, history repeats itself, unchanged since European contact.
Amnesty International’s 2007 Maze of Injustice report revealed that Native women are sexually assaulted two to three times more often than non-Native women. It relates how the Justice Department has failed Indian country in its response to violence against Native women.
Tribal governments lack jurisdiction to hold non-tribal offenders accountable for crimes committed in Indian country. When local, state and federal prosecutors fail to prosecute such crimes, the Natives are re-victimized.
In 2004, a Native woman spent an evening with friends at a pub in Bar Harbor, Maine. During the evening, she got into a conversation with a man and later accepted his invitation to step outside for some fresh air. They walked along a waterside park—a popular spot for many vacationers who visit this quaint New England town.
The waterfront is easily visible in the center of an affluent coastal town, but as they stood looking at the boats, the man forced her to the ground and raped her. She was terrified. Unable to fight him off, she endured the brutal invasion of her body.
The experience left her scarred for years—depressed, ashamed, humiliated, fearful of all men, unable to form a healthy relationship and afraid of social interactions. She worried immediately about pregnancy, then later about STDs, HIV/AIDS.
Her mother says, “When your child is harmed and you weren’t there to protect her, you’re left in a gut-wrenching state. I’ve struggled to comprehend the act of violence that touched my child’s life. I felt helpless thinking of what I should have done to prevent it, but I felt I couldn’t even comfort to my child as I watched her daily struggle with fear, depression and anger. During my daughter’s struggles, she found comfort in drugs. I felt helpless watching her struggling with her addiction.
“I wonder if this man who raped my daughter ever thought about what he had done as he went about his daily life. Did he feel ashamed? What was his upbringing? Did his parents harm others?
“My daughter appeared before the grand jury and when they heard her story, they indicted the man, but he had left Maine, so they issued a warrant for his arrest. My daughter says that even if she doesn’t win the case, she would be satisfied with the case going to trial. She wants to have a say, and let him know how much he had disrupted her life and the struggles she had to overcome.”
Then District Attorney M. Povitch’s office in Hancock County, where Bar Harbor is located, notified the woman in late 2010, that the man had been found, and the D.A.’s office was considering extraditing him back to Maine for trial.
In mid-2010, after months of unanswered calls, the Victim Advocate called the district attorney’s office. Assistant District Attorney Mary Kellett told the rape victim that the office was reluctant to go forward with the case because they didn’t think they could get a conviction. She asked the rape victim to consider dropping the case.
Although Kellett has brought many cases to trial and lost, she refused to prosecute a case that has enough physical and medical evidence to have convinced the grand jury to indict the assailant and bring him to trial. The family is convinced that the D.A.’s office has based its decision on money rather than the facts of the case. There would, of course, be publicity around the case if it went to trial, and it could negatively impact Bar Harbor’s tourism industry, a main source of income for the region.
The refusal sends the not only the victim in this case, but also other Native women the old message that a Native woman is not worth the time and money to hold a non-Native offender accountable for his crime. One wonders, however, how the local justice system would respond if a rich white woman had been raped by a Native man.