(CN) – The Court of Federal Claims awarded nearly $600,000 to an Oglala Sioux woman who was sexually assaulted by an Army recruiter. Under an 1868 treaty, the United States must reimburse Sioux members for “any wrong” committed by “bad men among the whites.”
During her junior year in high school, Lavetta Elk met Army recruiter Joseph Kopf. At that time, it was Elk’s lifelong dream to join the Army and be the first military woman in her family.
Kopf began showing more than a professional interest in her, sending her flowers and repeatedly asking her to movies. She declined his advances.
When she graduated in 2002, she was accepted to four colleges and was weighing her options. That summer, she accompanied Kopf on a recruiting trip. At a hotel in South Dakota, Kopf asked Elk to come to his room so he could measure and weigh her as part of her military application process. While she was holding out her arms to be measured, he hugged her around the waist, then turned off the light, grabbed her and kissed her.
She pulled back angrily, and Kopf promised it wouldn’t happen again. She did not report the incident because she thought “it was over.”
But the next month, Elk’s great-uncle died, prompting her to move back home to grieve with her family. She decided not to return to college.
When Kopf heard the news, he called her incessantly, ostensibly for support. He also told her about a medical job opportunity in the military, knowing she had expressed an interest in nursing.
In December, he drove Elk and another female recruit to Sioux Falls for a physical exam. Although Elk didn’t meet the weight-height requirements for the job, Kopf told her she had been accepted into the military.
He later showed up at her house, claiming he needed to drive her back to Sioux Falls for another exam, because her “paperwork had been lost again.” Instead, he drove her to a remote area, parked the car, killed the engine and locked the doors.
“It is undisputed that Kopf then sexually assaulted Ms. Elk,” Judge Allegra wrote.
Elk later told her friends and relatives about the incident, and her father called police.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute Kopf, but the Army reduced his rank and barred him from recruitment.
“The assault continued to take its toll on Ms. Elk,” Allegra wrote. “Reminders of that nightmarish episode prompted her to take frequent showers. She stopped exercising, yet lost twenty pounds, avoided intimacy with men, and, in February 2003, started drinking alcohol for the first time in her life.”
Elk filed a claim with the Department of the Interior under the “bad men” provision of the Fort Laramie Treaty of April 29, 1868.
The federal claims court awarded her $590,755.06.
“Based on the record, the court finds that Ms. Elk has suffered a significant amount of pain, suffering and emotional distress as a result of the assault and more than likely will continue to experience these same injuries at least over the next two years,” Allegra concluded.