Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Child Victimization on South Dakota Indian Reservations: An Overview of Jurisdictional Policy

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Child Victimization on South Dakota Indian Reservations: An Overview of Jurisdictional Policy

Article excerpt


Offenses against children are viewed in U.S. society as the most heinous of all crimes. An especially dim view is taken toward the sexual and physical victimization of children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2006) reported the victimization rate (physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as neglect) for American Indian children to be 15.9 per 1,000 American Indian children. This compares with 10.7 out of 1,000 Caucasian children becoming victims of abuse and/or neglect. When compared to non-Indian children, American Indian children are at especially high risk for abuse and/or neglect.

The issue of jurisdiction on Indian reservations is at the heart of child abuse investigations and prosecutions. Frequently there is confusion as to which governmental entity is in charge of the investigation and prosecution, which can lead to two major concerns. The first is that tribal, county, state, and federal agencies will all become involved, leading to turf wars and harmful repeated interviewing of the child victim. The second concern is when a referral of child abuse is made to a governmental agency that does not have jurisdiction and the matter is not passed on to the appropriate authorities. Thus, the possible abuse case falls through the cracks and is not investigated at all. Therefore, child abuse referrals on reservations are particularly susceptible to both over-investigation and under-investigation due to jurisdictional ambiguity.


When it comes to investigating and prosecuting offenses against children, the Federal government may become responsible, depending on the where the offense was committed, what type of offense was perpetrated, and the race of the victim and the perpetrator. Sex offenses have become one of the fastest growing crimes handled by investigators, prosecutors, and courts in the Federal criminal justice system. To illustrate this point, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported 1,658 investigations and 537 arrests in matters involving child sexual abuse between 2003 and 2006. During this same time period, the FBI investigated 134 allegations of child physical abuse and made 39 arrests. The physical and sexual abuse of children constituted 30% of all FBI investigations in Indian Country during this time frame (FBI Congressional Testimony, 2006).

Indian Country is defined in 18 U.S.C. Section 1151 as:

   (a) all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the
   jurisdiction of the United States Government, notwithstanding the
   issuance of any patent, and, including rights-of-way running
   through the reservation, (b) all dependent Indian communities
   within the borders of the United States whether within the original
   or subsequently acquired territory thereof, and whether within or
   without the limits of a State, and (c) all Indian allotments, the
   Indian titles to which have not been extinguished, including
   rights-of-way running through the same.

According to 2007 estimates from the United States Census, American Indians are the largest minority in South Dakota, comprising 8.3% of the state's population. In actual numbers, there are 67,941 American Indians living in South Dakota, a state whose population is 796,214. It is difficult to obtain an actual count of American Indians living on South Dakota reservations. According to the South Dakota Tribal Government Relations Office (2004), 94,036 enrolled tribal members live on reservations in South Dakota. This figure does not take into account the Native Americans living on reservations that are not enrolled members.

Many Native American individuals and families periodically move on and off the reservation. Factors pushing them away from the reservation are employment and education opportunities in more urban areas. They tend to be pulled back to their home reservation due to strong family ties and lack of emotional support off the reservation. …

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