The lawsuit underscores the relative invisibility of indigenous women to the U.S. judicial system.
A former police dispatcher in the small Alaska town of Nome is suing the city, claiming her police department colleagues did nothing after she reported a sexual assault.
The plaintiff, named by The Associated Press as Clarice Hardy, claims the inaction is part of a larger trend—the invisibility of indigenous women, who suffer sexual assault at rates far higher than almost any other demographic in the country. In her lawsuit, Hardy states that the lackadaisical response to her own report of victimization is “part of the city’s systemic and ongoing failure to protect Alaska Native woman [sic] from sexual abuse and assault.”
Hardy’s being represented by The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on her behalf. Collectively, Hardy and the ACLU are seeking unspecified monetary damages as well as a jury trial.
However, Hardy’s case hasn’t just begun—she’s been seeking justice for months.
Last year, notes The A.P., the ACLU sent Nome a demand letter for $500,000, promising not to sue if the city were willing to settle with Hardy out of court.
“Those claims were essentially ignored, much like Miss Hardy’s have, and the city refused to negotiate with us,” said ACLU-Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff.
Along with providing recompense for Hardy, the ACLU is seeking an injunction that will force Nome to cease any local-level discriminatory practices in government and ensure that sexual assault reports are taken seriously.
The ACLU also wants Nome to pay punitive damages.
Many of the lawsuit’s claims circle back to former Nome Police Lt. Nick Harvey.
Hardy, for instance, says she trusted Harvey—they’d worked together for years. When she reported her sexual assault to Harvey, the lieutenant promised to open and investigation and petition for a warrant. But Harvey never did any of that, and Hardy later learned she wasn’t the only one who’d been ignored by him.
Another woman told The Associated Press that she was about to have a rape kit administered when Harvey intervened, instructing a nurse to stop the procedure. Harvey then said that he’d talked to the alleged perpetrator, who maintained that he and the victim had had consensual sex.
“The Officer stated that he was going to cancel the exam because he had already talked to the subject and the man admitted that he ‘had sex’ with the patient but that it was consensual,” the nurse wrote in a report. “Therefore the officer did not see a need for the exam.”
Other women similarly recalled cursory or nonexistent sexual assault investigations, whether conducted by Harvey or his colleagues.
Harvey, along with Nome Police Chief John Papasodroa, are both named as defendants alongside the city itself.