VERMILLION — The University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault (The Network) and a collection of partners have been awarded a $1.3 million grant to expand services related to preventing and responding to sexual assault and sex trafficking in rural, western South Dakota.

Bridget Diamond-Welch, Ph.D., a research scientist for the USD Sanford School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine, said the impetus for the grant is the anticipated arrival of workers to rural and remote areas of South Dakota to build the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“The development of so-called ‘man-camps’ along the route of the pipeline and during its construction will deliver thousands of workers to western South Dakota,” said Diamond-Welch. “These sorts of projects have caused a rise in sexual assaults and sex trafficking in other states. Right now, medical facilities and expert counseling and response for victims of sexual assault, trafficking and other related problems are not conveniently available along the pipeline route in western South Dakota. We want to be prepared if the oil pipeline and those camps are built and if services are needed.”

According to Diamond-Welch, Native American reservations and rural areas are already stretched thin as they work to meet the needs of victims, including Indigenous people.

“We are really excited to work with our state and tribal partners with this grant funding to provide Native American sexual assault survivors in the pipeline area with access to sexual assault services and trauma-informed and patient-centered sexual assault forensic-medical exams,” said Krista Heeren-Graber, executive director of The Network.

Specific objectives of the grant will be to expand counseling, safety planning, legal and victim advocacy and trauma-informed and patient-centered sexual assault forensic-medical exams. Specially trained advocates and experts will be hired as part of the grant.

Key on-the-ground members of The Network participating in the expansion of services are Communities Against Violence and Abuse (Lemmon), Missouri Shores DV Center (Pierre), Missouri Valley Crisis Center (Chamberlain), Sacred Heart Center (Eagle Butte), Sacred Shawl Society (Martin), Victims of Violence Intervention Program (Spearfish), White Buffalo Calf Woman’s Society (Mission), Winyan Wicayunihan Oyanke/Where all Women are Honored (Rapid City), and the Winner Resource Center (Winner).

The grant will be administered by The Network and funding will cover three years of effort.

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