A Utah judge told Congress Wednesday that Indian children who are victims of sexual abuse are also abused a second time by an uncaring system of tribal courts, inadequate social services and negligent federal agencies.
However, the Utah state government does provide a shining example for the rest of the nation by the way it provides social services for children on reservations - which virtually every other state apparently refuses.That's according to William A. Thorne Jr., a 3rd Circuit judge in West Valley City who was a part-time tribal court judge for eight years on reservations including the Uintah and Ouray Ute reservation in eastern Utah.
He testified before a special committee that has been investigating allegations of fraud, abuse and neglect by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hearings Wednesday centered on allegations that the BIA does not adequately investigate and deal with child sex abuse cases.
Thorne said when abuse is reported on reservations now, the focus is mainly on criminally punishing the suspect. But the needs of the victim are often overlooked.
"In many cases I believe that automatic initiation of criminal sanctions simply allows the system to `re-victimize' the child victim," he said.
For example, he related one instance where an 11-year-old victim reported abuse by her father in hopes that authorities would just make it stop. But criminal charges were soon filed, leading her mother to develop an acute drinking problem and finally to run away from the family.
The father was not given sole custody of the children because of the abuse, so children were farmed out to various foster homes. The victim had problems in foster homes and eventually ran away.
"This victim had asked for help and instead, from her viewpoint, the `system' destroyed her by taking away from her what little she had of value before the so-called protective intervention occurred."
Thorne said the problem is made worse because few social services are available on the reservations. And what few are available to victims are often withheld during slow criminal investigations designed to not `taint' the child's testimony in court.
As an example of inadequate social services, Thorne said one reservation in the Midwest even puts teenagers reporting abuse in a jail because it lacks facilities for them.
Thorne said BIA and other federal officials are often uncooperative in child sex abuse cases - and often refuse to recognize tribal court authority.
He said he once gave a court order for a U.S. Indian Health Services clinic to examine a girl who had reported physical and sexual abuse. The clinic then refused to give him the results without a parent's consent - which was unlikely, since the parent was the accused assailant.
Thorne had to have a U.S. attorney threaten to prosecute the federal official for ignoring federal mandatory reporting of sex abuse laws before the information was provided.
Others testified that most state and local governments refuse to provide any social services for children on Indian reservations unless jurisdiction over their cases is turned totally over to state systems. Thorne said the only exception appears to be in Utah.
He said state social services are provided there on reservations, and the state recognizes tribal courts just as it would state juvenile courts.
"I think the reason that happened is that everyone agreed we wouldn't fight over the children. The state and the tribes fight over just about everything else, but not the children," he said.