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Victim specialists urge teamwork on Indian cases

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Federal prosecutors said Wednesday they're heeding the call for teamwork by victim specialists who handle child abuse and neglect cases on American Indian reservations.

Experts told attendees at a conference on family violence in Indian country that successful prosecution for crimes against children depends on cooperation among law enforcement, social workers, doctors and attorneys.

"It takes a lot of people to be able to make this work," said Joan Halvorson, a Native American victim specialist with the FBI.

Rick Volk, an assistant U.S. attorney from North Dakota, said in an interview Wednesday that is office has for several years led regular meetings on the reservations with agency representatives to review child abuse cases. The sessions have become "more of a priority" in the last few years, he said.

"Essentially, we determine what's been reported, what's going on with the case, what needs to be done yet, and where it's at in the process to make sure there aren't those falling through the cracks," Volk said.

Panelists said Wednesday that networking among agencies can help with simple problems, such as finding addresses for a victim or figuring out who has legal custody of the child, or with more complex cultural issues, such as use of traditional Native American healing methods in medical care.

"It's very important we find out the needs of that particular reservation," Halvorson said. "All of them are a little different."

Halvorson said that while face-to-face contact with the victims and their families is essential, several prefer to conduct interviews off the reservation "so the rumor mill doesn't start, as in any small community."

Dr. Arne Graff, of the Fargo-based Sanford Child Advocacy Center, told the group of police officers, social workers, prosecutors, counselors and community leaders from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota that healing is a long and involved process.

"Mostly what I want you to take away is this: Caring for these kids is a team effort," Graff said. "There is no one person in this room who has any more power or need for these kids than the entire team."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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