Rape is high in Alaska, but low at UAA

With the state of Alaska holding the rank of having the highest incidents of rape per capita in the nation, it would make sense that at UAA, the largest university in the UA system, the issue of sexual assault is of great concern on campus.

According to this year’s annual safety report, only one sexual assault on the UAA campus was reported. There have only been two incidents of reported sexual assault in three years. This number is considerably low compared to the number of liquor law violations reported.

According to Standing Together Against Rape, an Alaska-based nonprofit organization that offers counseling and other services to victims of sexual crimes, the low statistic is not out of the ordinary.

“It doesn’t seem strange,” Educational Outreach Manager at STAR Terry Gamage said. “Only one in ten people report sexual assaults.”

Gamage said the number of reported alcohol violations did not raise suspicions.

“Lots of times you will find that alcohol is involved but it doesn’t cause it,” Gamage said. “There are low numbers probably because people don’t report the incidents.”

Detective Michael Beckner at UPD agreed.

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“[Sexual assault] can occur anytime, anywhere,” Beckner said. “Some people say there’s a correlation between the [alcohol and sexual violence], but I don’t.”

According to Gamage, a shocking one in four college women will be the victim of a sexual offence. Alaska is number one in the country with 76 reported assaults per 100,000 people. The national average of 30.9 per 100,000, makes Alaska more than 140 percent higher than the rest of the nation.

STAR not only offers services for victims, but also provides education throughout the community on sexual assault and its effects. The nonprofit organization provides training for local law enforcement agencies such as the Anchorage Police Department. The University Police Department, however, has not received any recent training through STAR.

“They may have received it in the past, but they haven’t received it in a couple years,” said Abbie (an educator at STAR who has asked that her last name be withheld). “We’d have to go back and check the records to see if and when they received it.”

UPD Detective Michael Beckner said that although they don’t receive STAR training, officers go through a 40-hour course put on by the state of Alaska through the Dept. of Public Safety, in conjunction with STAR.

“If there is a sexual assault, there is a process that’s done. It’s uniformed and it should be done the same way every time,” Beckner said. “The class is about what each person’s role is and what steps to take each time. The training is just about that process.”

The process is referred to as Sexual Assault Response Training. A SART team consists of a detective, a forensic nurse and an advocate from STAR. When an assault is reported, the responding officer activates the SART team, who then meets with the victim to hear the details of the incident. The process was designed out of concern for the victim, so the victim would only have to tell their story once.

“The advocate is there for a support system,” Abbie said. “Obviously, the detective is there for an investigation, and the nurse is there for a forensic exam.”

Although STAR sends advocates to the training, the training is not given by STAR.

“It is good training, but we can do more training on victim sensitivity,” Gamage said.

UPD said this training is adequate enough for a smaller police force. At full staff, the UPD consists of 16 officers, with only two of them trained in sexual assault response. According to Beckner, who works on call 24/7, two is enough.

“Most departments have a sexual assault unit. Your small agencies [like UPD] have a detective or one other person working sexual assault cases,” Beckner said. “You don’t want every officer trained in it.You only want one or two dedicated people working.”

Beckner said that the more officers involved, the more likely it is for a case to become messy.

According to Lieut. Dave Parker at the Anchorage Police Department, APD is set up in a similar way.

“STAR comes to the academy and trains APD officers as they come in,” Parker said. “But not all our officers are trained to handle a sexual assault investigation. That’s basically done by our detective core.”

Parker described how STAR training is beneficial to the officers. He said that STAR explains who they are, educates on rape trauma syndrome, and helps officers understand how they can refer people to STAR. STAR can also help victims of sexual assault deal with its long term effects.

Parker said that when there is a sexual assault case, APD sexual assault detectives work hand in hand with STAR and UPD does the same.

“So there’s a good connection there even though they might not get the initial training from STAR,” Parker said. “It’s really good training though.” Training that some think may be beneficial for UPD to receive.

In 2007, there were 154 reported sexual assaults in APD’s South District. UAA sits on the north edge of the South District.

“We would be really open to [training] UPD,” Abbie said. “All we need is an invitation.”