LINCOLN — Renee Sans Souci learned as a young teenager, growing up in Lincoln, to walk warily and always be on alert.

Experience taught her that, as a Native American woman, she was a target for harassment, violence and sexual exploitation. She still wound up being sexually assaulted and suffering from domestic abuse.

Sans Souci, of the Omaha Tribe, was hardly alone among the Native American women testifying Thursday before the Judiciary Committee. Almost all said they, too, had experienced rape and domestic violence in their lives.

“For a long time, I thought that was the norm,” said Chandra Michelle Walker, who chairs the Native caucus for the Nebraska Democratic Party.

Both women spoke in support of Legislative Bill 154, introduced by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon. The measure would add Nebraska to a growing number of states that are taking a closer look at cases of missing Native American women and girls.

The proposal would require the Nebraska State Patrol to work with the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs on a study looking at how many Native American women have gone missing and at the law enforcement resources available to investigate those cases and protect women.

“The bill attempts to answer a very serious question: Why do Native American women turn up missing in numbers far more than the national average for every other demographic?” said Brewer, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

He said one issue is the multiple law enforcement and legal systems involved with tribal reservations. The situation allows cases to fall through the cracks.

Two other key issues are sex trafficking and domestic violence, said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who co-sponsored the bill.

April Satchell, who testified with her infant granddaughter in her arms, pointed to society’s attitudes about Native American women and girls as a major contributor to the problem.

“Right now, our lives don’t matter,” she said. “We are being targeted for who we are.”

Concern about the disproportionately high numbers of missing and slain Native American women has been growing nationally.

In 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, according to the National Crime Information Center. But experts say that number is low because many cases never get reported.

The Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle undertook a survey of major cities to try to identify cases involving slain and missing Native American women and girls.

The survey found 506 cases across 71 cities, including Omaha and Lincoln. The 24 cases in Omaha represented the eighth-highest total among the cities included in the study. Nebraska ranked seventh-highest among states, when the nine cases from Lincoln were included. The survey did not include cases involving women living in or around reservations or in other Nebraska towns.

No one spoke against LB 154. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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