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Cass Lake IHS gets federal funding to improve response to sexual assault

Diane Bohn, registered nurse, and Norine Smith, CEO at Cass Lake Indian Health Service, announced that the IHS has been funded through the National IHS Domestic Violence Initiative for a demonstration project to improve the effectiveness of victim-centered multidisciplinary responses to sexual assault victims in the Leech Lake Reservation communities.

The funding will be used to expand the IHS Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program, to develop and maintain a reservation-wide Sexual Assault Response Team and to provide professional and community education regarding sexual assault.

In 2009 Public Law 111-8; the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 and congress provided $7.5 in funding to the federal IHS Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative to address domestic violence and sexual assault within American Indian/Alaska Native communities. This funding is a direct response to recent evidence that American Indian/Alaska Native women are at greatly increased risk of domestic violence and sexual assault when compared to women of other races/ethnicities. Data from the U. S. Department of Justice reveal that American Indian/Alaska Native women experience sexual assault at a rate more than twice that of U.S. women in general.

The Cass Lake IHS has been awarded $216,000 for the first year and $310,000 for the second year of its three-year demonstration project. The IHS will work closely with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, local and county law enforcement, advocacy services, prosecution, corrections, schools and other individuals, organizations to address the needs of the Leech Lake reservation pertaining to the issue of sexual assault. There will be extensive community involvement in this project with listening sessions and the formation of a Community Advisory Council serving as primary mechanisms for local residents to share their knowledge and wisdom about sexual assault and culturally appropriate responses.

Sexual assault nurse examiners are registered nurses or advanced practice nurses who have received special training to conduct forensic medical examinations for sexual assault victims. SANEs collect evidence using the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension rape kit, provide prophylactic medications and document injuries using a victim-centered approach that seeks to minimize further trauma to the victims.