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Indian Health Service announces ‘SAFE-IHS’ hotline to report abuse
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Indianz.Com

The Indian Health Service announced a hotline to accept reports of suspected child or sexual abuse following controversy involving a pediatrician who was convicted of crimes against young patients.

Anyone with information about abuse within the IHS system can call 1-855-SAFE-IHS (855 723-3447), where they will be directed to trained personnel, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Written complaints can also be submitted on ihs.gov.

“Protecting our patients and our employees from sexual abuse in a supportive environment is a priority at the Indian Health Service,” IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler, a citizen of the Comanche Nation, said in a news release on Tuesday.

“At the IHS, we strive for a culture of accountability in everything we do,” Fowler said. “This new hotline simplifies the reporting process allowing anyone who suspects child abuse or sexual abuse to have a direct line to personnel who are specially trained in responding to, and investigating this type of information.”

A ‘pedophile’: Stanley Patrick Weber, a former Indian Health Service pediatrician, has been convicted of abusing Indian children on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and is facing a trial for abusing children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: U.S. Attorney’s Office

In 2019, a pediatrician who worked for the IHS for decades was found guilty of abusing young male patients on the Blackfeet Nation and on the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Stanley Patrick Weber was tried separately in Montana and in South Dakota, with federal prosecutors calling him a “pedophile” who showed no remorse for his behaviors.

Amid the controversy, the Donald Trump administration announced the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System. In a July 2020 report, the group recommended the creation of a hotline at IHS.

“The Task Force recommends IHS establish, publicize, and monitor a hotline dedicated solely to reporting of suspected child abuse. Notably, this hotline should be separate and apart from the ‘fraud, waste, and abuse’ hotline. The child abuse reporting hotline should be staffed by individuals trained to receive, document, and respond to or relay child abuse reports in a timely manner,” the report stated. “Additionally, the Task Force recommends IHS establish a website or other virtual reporting system to receive reports of suspected child abuse.”

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Following his convictions, Weber appealed his cases. He lost both, with the ruling in the South Dakota case issued last Wednesday by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The February 10 decision noted that Weber “advanced a theory of defense that he had been the victim of a conspiracy among some witnesses since he was an outsider in the Pine Ridge community.” The 8th Circuit, however, pointed out that not all of the witnesses against him were from the same place.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Weber in the Montana case in an unpublished opinion on February 10, 2020, a year prior to the 8th Circuit. The decision took only four days to render.

Weber was first sentenced in the Montana case to 18 years in prison for his crimes. In South Dakota, he was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for five aggravated sexual abuse charges and 15 years each on three counts of sexual abuse of a minor.

Weber, 72, was ordered to serve his sentences consecutively and was collectively fined more than $1 million. He is being held for “LIFE” in FCI Phoenix, a medium security facility in Arizona, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

“This case was always about getting justice for these victims who suffered from the actions of an evil man, a doctor who abused the kids entrusted to his care,” Fred Bennett, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who helped investigate Weber as a special agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said in a January 27 news release.

Bennett, who has since retired from the BIA, was among the recipients of the Attorney General’s Award, the highest award at the Department of Justice. A total of 15 tribal and federal law enforcement helped investigate the case.

8th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
US v. Weber (February 10, 2021)

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
US v. Weber (February 10, 2020)

Government Accountability Office Report
Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Provider Misconduct and Substandard Performance (December 10, 2020)