Safety & Accountability Audit

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    Building a Coordinated Community Response in Native Communities

    In the summer of 2006, Mending the Sacred Hoop (MSH) and the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) began a Safety and Accountability Audit, a collaborative process of examining the system’s response to reported rapes of Native women. An audit team was formed that included Native women from the community, advocates, the head of the criminal division from the St. Louis County Attorney’s office, the Deputy Chief of Police from the City of Duluth, and the Supervising Deputy Sheriff from St. Louis County.

    Our process was not a cold, distant analysis of a system. The committed individuals on the audit team spent countless hours hunched over notes from interviews, police reports, state statutes and policies. The team rode along with police officers on their shifts, interviewed professionals from all over the system, and cried after conducting focus groups with Native women who had survived devastating circumstances. Difficult conversations were had and stereotypes and biases from all sides were uncovered and confronted. The team gained insight into how the criminal justice system affects the lives of Native women who have been sexually violated and journeyed through the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual aspects of Native women’s experiences. That understanding, coupled with a stronger awareness of how different aspects of the system intersect, gave the team the information it needed to suggest positive changes within those systems.

    What is an audit?

    A Safety and Accountability Audit is a self-assessment tool developed by Praxis International by which communities can critically examine their collective institutional response to violence against women. The examination is conducted by a team comprised of community members and advocates who can keep the lived experience of Native women “present” throughout the process, and a selection of interagency representatives from agencies charged with intervening in cases of sexual assault. This Audit team does the “work” of the Audit: collecting and analyzing the data, identifying problem areas, and articulating a series of recommendations for improvement. (See Acknowledgements section for a list of team members.)

    The data gathered throughout this process assists auditors in identifying whether a woman’s safety is increased or decreased throughout the systemic response to her assault, and whether or not the offender is held accountable. If the audit team discovers a way in which a woman’s safety is compromised, or ways in which offenders can escape accountability, they identify those problematic areas as “gaps.” These identified gaps can therefore be directly addressed by the agencies involved as they envision, implement, and sustain their response to address, in our case, sexual violence against Indian women.

    The audit process rests on the premise that individuals within any given system are committed to doing their best work. However, the way that individual practitioners do their jobs on a daily basis is coordinated by a larger system. The audit was not designed to catch individuals doing poor work. Instead, it uncovers the systemic barriers that keep individual practitioners from addressing the safety of Native women when they report sexual violence and from holding the perpetrators accountable.

    Why sexual violence?

    Safety audits have thus far primarily been used to examine a system’s response to domestic, not sexual, violence. The criminal justice response to domestic violence has been relatively welldeveloped and refined thanks, in part, to the many safety audits that have been conducted on the subject. Because of the activism of domestic violence advocates, domestic violence has been criminalized, useful risk assessments have been developed to help ensure battered women’s safety, predominant aggressor statutes have been implemented to help keep battered women who fight to protect themselves from going to jail, and mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence have been put into law. All of these reforms and more have clarified the role of police and have given them multiple tools to ensure safety and accountability in cases of domestic violence.

    Sexual assault and domestic violence are often lumped together simply because, more often than not, they are crimes perpetrated by men against women. The response to domestic violence may provide some clues as how to better address sexual violence and it is undeniable that the two crimes often overlap. However, they are vastly different crimes and require different responses.

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