Saturday, December 17, 2011

Abuse, native foster care focus of Unity Rally - South Dakota

by David Montgomery

A small group of activists rallied Friday in Rapid City to protest sexual abuse of children and the state's foster care system.

The two-issue Unity Rally for the Children took place at 1 p.m. at Memorial Park. Addressing the issue of sexual abuse were Mayor Sam Kooiker and Robert Brancato, director of the Rapid City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Tate Walker of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota and Evelyn Red Lodge, a reporter for the Native Sun News, talked about problems they see with the state's foster care system.

Galvanizing Kooiker and Brancato was a 2010 law limiting the time frame within which people can bring lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse. Both men say that statute of limitations should be repealed.

"It is time that South Dakota joins our friends in Montana and other states that have repealed the civil and criminal statutes of limitations on childhood sexual abuse," Kooiker said. "It's very important that victims have the right to bring this up later in life, to not have an arbitrary barrier stand in their way."

Brancato, an abuse survivor himself, pledged to "do everything I can" to rescind what he called "such a horrible law."

After Kooiker and Brancato spoke on sexual abuse, Walker and Red Lodge tackled the foster care issue. An NPR investigative report published this fall alleged that South Dakota's Department of Social Services violated the federal Indian Child Welfare Act by placing Native American children in non-Native households.

Walker, of the ACLU, said her organization has been gathering stories of families who claim their children have been unjustly taken away by social workers.

"We are sad to say we've been very busy," Walker said. "Too many children and families have been affected and not in good ways."

State officials have disputed the accusations, saying they have placed as many Native American children as possible with Native families and only turn to non-Native foster parents and group homes as a last resort.

Walker said the ACLU is "investigating legal angles" to "bring justice to the families."

The rally was a one-shot event, Red Lodge said.

"This was just basically a group of concerned individuals who got together and said, ‘We've got to make a noise. We've got to get out there. We've got to let people know,'" she said.


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