ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota law professor who advocates for victims of domestic abuse is among the 21 winners of this year’s MacArthur Foundation “genius grants.”

Sarah Deer, an assistant professor at the William Mitchell College of Law, said Wednesday that she had no idea how she was selected.

“I was flabbergasted and surprised when I got the call two weeks ago,” she said.

Deer is an advocate for Native American women living on reservations, who suffer higher-than-average rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Deer, a Native American, said she worked with women who simply stopped reporting such attacks because their tribal governments had been stripped of the authority to investigate and because federal authorities often were unwilling to do so.

In its announcement Wednesday, the foundation pointed to her instrumental role in Congress’ reauthorization last year of the Violence Against Women Act, which restored some of those abilities to tribes.

Grant recipients each receive $625,000 to spend as they wish. Deer said is still thinking about what to do with hers.

“I think whatever I do next will focus on the resiliency and strengths of native women who’ve experienced sexual violence,” she said. “Maybe hopefully focusing on a national dialogue where these women can tell their truth on their own terms.”

Deer said she may write a book on the subject after she finishes her current book project.

And she said the grant may give her a needed financial lift. She said she’s still paying off her student loans even though she’s in her 40s. Putting that debt behind her might let her take more risks and make decisions that she otherwise couldn’t, she said.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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