Tulalip removes statute of limitations on sexual assault cases

By Niki Cleary, Tulalip News 

It’s a nightmare. Whether it happens to you or someone you love, or just someone in your community, it is a trauma with vast ripple effects. Rape. Sexual violence. Child molestation. Just naming the crime is uncomfortable, scary, traumatizing. Imagine if it happened to you, to your best friend or sibling, and it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to think it could happen to your child.

“Victims might hold onto an assault for years without saying anything,” said Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon. “In the past, when they found the courage, or the right situation came up where they could talk about it, the statute of limitations may have passed. There was no justice for them. This is about sending a message to those that were victimized, letting them know that we care and from this day forward there will be justice no matter when the crime happened.”

According to the Department of Justice National Crime Victimization survey 284,350 people were victims of rape or sexual assault nationally. This doesn’t include domestic violence or intimate partner violence, which often includes a sexual assault component.

“We know Native American women are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted,” said Tulalip Prosecutor Brian Kilgore. “It’s an epidemic and it drives a lot of the trauma and grief behind the drug epidemic.”

Only a fraction of sexual assaults are ever reported and fewer still are prosecuted. The reasons why are far from simple. They run the gamut from cultural norms to the physical, financial and psychological pros and cons of reporting. Particularly, since the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known, or related to the victim.

A few of the lifelong effects of sexual assault include post-traumatic stress disorder, inability to form healthy attachments, sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety. This is also further complicated by the reactions of those close to the victim when the victim discloses the crime. The fear of losing their support systems, or worse, being shunned or blamed for the assault, often stops victims in their tracks.


“This is about sending a message to those that were victimized, letting them know that we care and from this day forward there will be justice no matter when the crime happened.”

– Mel Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes Chairman


“If you have 100 sexual assault victims, maybe 10 or 15 will get reported,” explained Aaron Verba, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigator for the Tulalip Prosecutor’s Office. “You might file three and then when it comes to a guilty verdict, maybe you’re down to one. It really comes down to the cost for the victim,” he continued. “There’s a 99 percent chance that you were victimized by someone you know or are related to.”

Because the perpetrator is often part of the community, peers and family may be unwilling to believe the crime happened. In many cases not believing the victim is a form of self-protection, Aaron described. Families don’t want to see another family member as an offender.

“Everyone is victimized,” he said. “For the family, if they support the victim sometimes they have to admit, ‘I believe this bad thing happened to you and I may have unknowingly been involved in the grooming process.’ The family has to decide whether it’s safer for them to support the victim or the perpetrator.”

Oftentimes, it’s easier to simply deny that the crime happened, to blame circumstances or even blame the victim. Jade Carela, of the Child Advocacy Center.

“Why don’t they come forward?” she asked. “As a community member, I feel like the community support isn’t there yet. We have sex predators in our community that hold high positions or spiritual positions in our tribe. Victims have to wonder, ‘Why would I come out in a community that still holds these people up? I’m not going to get support.’ In the past when they were ready, the statute of limitations may have been up, and then it was too late.”

“It’s especially hard to disclose if a victim has seen another victim disclose and it went badly for them. Sometimes people justcarry that trauma around with them,” Aaron continued. “It’s a conversation we have with every victim that walks in here. Or they may be thinking I’m going to put this person away for the rest of his life, and you have to have an honest and frank conversation about the fact that we may not get 40 years, or even 30. This person may be back in the community in one year.”

Particularly in Native American communities, after the perpetrator serves time, community will be looking to reintegrate the person into everyday life. That means that the victim will likely encounter the perpetrator at community events, family events and everyday activities like going to the grocery store.

“When you sit down and tell people realistically what is going to happen, sometimes they change their mind,” said Aaron.

With all of the obstacles and potential fallout surrounding sexual abuse, there are just as many positive reasons to disclose a sex crime.

Brian explained that most rapists have a history of sex crimes, and unless they’re prosecuted, a future. Making sure that a perpetrator doesn’t hurt someone else is a huge incentive for some victims.

“Rape kits are expensive to test,” said Brian. “The State of Ohio had thousands of untested rape kits sitting on a shelf  and they paid to have them all tested. When they did they found a pattern because most rapists are serial rapists. It’s not a comfortable thing to say, ‘I was raped,’ but there’s a good chance if they’ve done it to you, they’ve done it to other people. The only way to stop them is to shine some daylight on it.”

Removing the statute of limitations on sex crimes isn’t just an empty political move, said Jade, it’s a step towards justice, healing for victims and an overall healthier community.

“As a community, we can show these victims that we love them by not being secretive about this. We need to educate our children, and come forward. Know that from here forward, whenever you are ready, we can still prosecute the crimes that happened to you.

“We always talk about the drug epidemic,” she continued. “Drugs are a symptom, they’re not the cause. The root cause is that when these drug addicts were little kids, things happened to them. If we want to eradicate drug use on the reservation, what we need to do now is keep our children safe.”

Aaron agreed, “There’s an incredibly high correlation between drug use and trauma. If you poll all the people who come through our court for drug offense, I’m guessing that 99.99% of them would have some sort of emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. Ultimately there’s a reason that you use drugs to change your reality, usually it’s because your reality sucks.”

Last, both Jade and Aaron agreed, disclosure is about healing.

“The women coming out now were children when this happened to them,” Jade said. “Hopefully, now they’ll feel safe enough to tell the reality about what happened to them so that they can get help. So that they don’t pass that on to their children.”

Aaron pointed to the new law as a sign of the changing times. But family support is going to be even more valuable.

“The important thing is how we support a victim,” he said. “When they disclose, they need to know they’ll be believed and someone will do something about it. The big thing about disclosure is that’s when you start healing. You can’t truly heal a wound until you take care of it, you can cover it up, you can ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen, but you can’t truly heal.”

Aaron also pointed out that sexual assault leaves scars that can take generations to heal.

“I heard once that it takes seven generations for sexual abuse to get out of a family,” he said. “That’s if the first person actually gets treatment, resolves issues and gets back to a somewhat healthy way. That person is still going to pass some of it on. You can’t not pass your life experiences on to your children, whether you know you’re doing it or not. We have people who have kept that stuff hidden for 30 or 40 years. The people on this reservation are still dealing with the effects of sexual abuse in boarding schools.”

This resolution is not retroactive. If the statute of limitations has already expired, the crime may not be prosecuted in Tulalip Court. However, Brian explained, it’s still worthwhile to report it.

“If you have DNA evidence, the federal statute of limitations runs from when you test the evidence,” he said. “For a lot of folks, the police may have a current file on the perpetrator, and any information will help them in their investigation. We can never promise that a case is going to be prosecutable, but we don’t know if it’s never reported.”

If you were the victim or witness of a sexual assault, or any crime, the first step is to call the police, regardless of how much time has passed. In emergencies always call 911. For non-emergencies you can reach the Tulalip Police Department at 360-716-4608.

Firsthand Account Of Man Camp In North Dakota From Local Tribal Cop

By Damon Buckley, Lakota Country Times



Grace Her Many Horses has dedicated many years of her life to law enforcement. After this article was published she was removed from her position at Rosebud and has since returned to work on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Article is reprinted with permission from The Sicangu Eyapaha (Rosebud Sioux) tribal newspaper.
Grace Her Many Horses has dedicated many years of her life to law enforcement. After this article was published she was removed from her position at Rosebud and has since returned to work on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Article is reprinted with permission from The Sicangu Eyapaha (Rosebud Sioux) tribal newspaper.

ROSEBUD, SD – Former Rosebud Sioux Tribe Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses took a temporary job working in the Bakken Region near Newtown, North Dakota. This Bakken Basin stretches from Montana to North Dakota and it is rich in shale oil supplies. She began work in June of last year until October of the same year. It was her first experience with Man Camps. She seen them before while driving past on the way to pow-wows but this was going to be the very first time she would enter the premises and work the area as a law enforcement officer. This seasoned professional would be in for a rude surprise.

“When I first got there some of the things they talked about, in any of these areas, was they told the men ‘Don’t go out and party. Don’t get drunk and pass out. Because you’re going to get raped,” she said without hesitation.

It’s not exactly something you would expect to hear from a workers’ camp but these places are not exactly your ordinary laborers’ camps. The depth of depravity and dubious behavior are commonplace in these so-called Man Camps. No one will say that all of the inhabitants are criminal but there is definitely an element there that has rocked the local law enforcement officials to the very core of their morals and value systems.

There are identifiable variables that remain constant: These oil workers usually come from desperate conditions. These workers usually have a family they have left elsewhere so they are not looking to start new relations. These workers are paid an excessive amount of money. These workers are well aware their employment is only temporary. These workers know they are living in a remote environment where law enforcement is already stretched beyond its limits and the temptation for criminal behavior is very strong. Unfortunately, most of America still cannot comprehend this information.

“Sexual assaults on the male population has increased by 75% in that area,” she continued. That kind of statistic makes maximum security prisons look like the minor league. “One of the things we ran into while working up there was a 15 year old boy had gone missing. He was found in one of the Man Camps with one of the oil workers. They were passing him around from trailer to trailer.”

He went there looking for a job and was hired by individuals within the Man Camp to do light cleaning in and around their personal areas. The young teenager was forced into sex slavery. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in the ghettos of third world countries; not in the quiet and remote countryside.

The victims aren’t just males but females too. Everyone has heard by now of the missing school teacher that was kidnapped as she was out jogging, repeatedly sexually assaulted, and murdered near one of these Man Camps. The age of the Man Camp victims varies. The assailants are not necessarily looking for male and female adults. They are also going after little girls.

Grace Her Many Horse recalls one specific instance where “We found a crying, naked, four year old girl running down one of the roads right outside of the Man Camp. She had been sexually assaulted.”

There has been a significant rise in prostitution, gambling, and organized crime in these Man Camps too. The oil workers enjoy being compensated at salaries far above that of the average American blue collar worker. So when their paydays come around the predators venture out of the camps and into nearby towns and places a little further down the road. They usually move in caravans of workers with large amounts of cash stuffed into their pockets. Their large payoffs give them the buying power to obtain anything they can think of including prostitutes and hardcore drugs that have never been seen in these towns before. It has a devastating effect on the local small towns.

This former tribal police chief’s first experience talking with prostitutes that cater to Man Camps came here on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. She pulled over two vans heading out of town. They were filled with female passengers, again, of varying ages. They were heading in the direction of the Man Camps. One of the brazen occupants declared outright to this officer, “Well, you know why we are going up there.” It’s not something you would expect to hear from a woman but these passengers were determined to make it to their destination one way or another.

After taking a long breath followed by a sigh Officer Her Many Horse said, “That small tribal town has been through so much. When you go into to their casino around 11 at night you notice the flavor of the patrons has dramatically changed for the worse.” She speaks of her short time policing those camps and admits it was easy to notice how hard drugs and prostitution had increased dramatically.

She spoke with local Indians that said they used to frequent their casino but they stopped. Things had changed so much that a large number of locals dare not venture outside at night. There are strangers everywhere. Again, this is coming from a small town where most of its population is Native American and everyone had known each other’s first names and origin. Now it is hardly recognizable. Businesses were forced to open only to be shuttered later. Trash and debris has increased. Violence of all types has surged and the beauty of the land has been replaced with heavy construction vehicles and the destruction of lands once referred to as God’s Country. The traffic on local highways has increased significantly as well as the number of traffic accidents and its numerous victims that can no longer speak for themselves. Life goes on in these small Indian towns but it is a life that is bitter and strange.

Meth has been seen as having destructive effects on Indian communities before but now there are new drugs filtering onto Indian reservations from these Man Camps. “There is a new drug called Crocus. When you ingest it your skin boils from the inside-out. It leaves you with permanent scars on the surface of your skin that resembles the scales of a crocodile. It will literally eat your feet off, eat your limbs off. It’s horrible. That’s been introduced up there and it is more addictive than heroin. The drug trade is rampant up there.” She explains how the police department near that particular Man Camp is smaller than the one here in Rosebud. “They need help,” she confesses.

There are oil workers there that can’t even speak English. The sex offenders are very prevalent. “We found thirteen sex offenders in one Man Camp and that Man Camp is found directly behind the tribal casino. Our supervisors would tell us “Watch your kids. Don’t let them run through there.” Making matters worse was the fact that Grace Her Many Horses moved up there with her two young daughters ages ten and fourteen. Living in those conditions and having to worry about the safety of her children must have added years to her life. After the need for workers ends the small town is left with its eye sore oil pipeline, businesses will go bust, the introduction of these new hardcore drugs will linger on, and its shocked residents will be left to contemplate their decision for the oil pipeline in years to come.

The most startling time Grace Her Many Horses spent at the Man Camps was when her police force had to serve warrants on some of the workers and remove them from their dwellings. She and her co-workers took things very serious, suited up in full SWAT gear, went through extra-ordinary measures to could conduct their raids, and to protect themselves from harm.

“It was scary. I never had to do that before in my many years of service. I feel really bad for the local residents because the flavor of their [Indian] reservation has changed so much,” she admits.

It leads the common Rosebud resident to ask if we have enough police officers to cover the proposed Man Camp being built nearby the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. She was not hesitant to argue: “No we do not have enough members on the police force. We barely have enough people to cover our [Indian] reservation right now. If you were around for the first week of January we had a double-homicide, we had unattended deaths, we had shootings, we had a major car accident, and that’s just in one week. We were so busy here at the [police] station. My whole department worked thirty hours straight. I told those guys to go home, get showered, and come back to work. That’s not even taking care of our outlying communities. This tribal police department isn’t equipped to handle what’s going to happen out there when the Man Camp arrives. The infrastructure of the towns on this Indian reservation will be forced to expand then months later it will collapse onto itself. Because I’ve witnessed it doing just that… what I am saying up there in Newtown, ND. It’s going to be really scary. Realistically speaking, we’re going to need to setup a substation for the area nearest to the Man Camp, and we got have people on call 24 hours a day there too. I don’t know how we are going to deal with that just yet. We are overwhelmed as is stands right now. Once the Man Camp moves in…” Basically, it’s not a future everyone wants to see.