Domestic violence has been a prominent issue in the state of Alaska for decades, which has lead to reports of sexual assault that have become the highest in the nation. The high number of cases has resulted in the Alaskan rape rate tallying three times the national average.
Rape is a form of sexual assault that is repeatedly committed, but often goes unreported. It is a criminal offense that includes any act of non-consensual sexual penetration. Most states define rape as forceful sexual relations with a person against that person’s will.
Alaska has been named “the rape capital of America” — and that is a disturbing label. With nearly 80 reported rapes per 100,000 people according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), there is need for some significant change in the state. Alaska’s reputation for high reports of rape does not even begin to show how severe the crime is in the state, considering many cases go unreported.
Reports of sexual assault take place all over the state, but rural Alaska is a very prevalent place that rape is frequently reported. In this part of Alaska, it is difficult for law enforcement to get to victims in a timely manner.
More statistics from NCADV show that Alaskan Natives make up nearly 61 percent of rape victims in the state, and one in three Alaskan Native women admit to being a victim of rape in her lifetime. These women in rural Alaska are statistically 2 1-2 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women of other races.
Nearly 59 percent of adult women in Alaska experience some sort of sexual assault in their lifetime, while almost 30 percent of Alaskans are not able to reach the authorities or victim services due to where they live. Alaska also has the highest homicide rate for female victims killed by a male perpetrator in the nation.
Kerry Frank, a UAA biology student who grew up in Minto, Alaska — a small rural community on the interior — admitted no matter where you live, it is essential to know who you are surrounding yourself with.
“I think Alaska’s rape rate is so high because of the alcoholism among Alaskans,” Frank said. “I actually do feel comfortable living in a rural community, and as a female, I just can’t say I feel any safer in Anchorage.”
Not enough of these occurrences are reported, and only 29 percent of these cases result in arrest. In many instances, victims are not taken seriously enough which often results in victim-blaming and sufferers not reporting their sexual assault in fear that their situation will not be considered severe, or that they will be blamed for the crime.
In many rape cases, question of the victim’s behavior, what he or she was wearing, whether alcohol was involved or where the attack took place comes to surface. The problem is not whether the victim was fully-clothed or completely sober, it is that the perpetrator committed an illicit crime when they chose to sexually assault another being.
Standing Together Against Rape is a local crisis center that advocates, prevents and educates Alaskans on the local rape epidemic. STAR trains and educates students across the community and the state on sexual assault awareness.
Laura, the direct services manager at STAR acknowledges Alaska’s domestic violence issue and supports the intention of local instruction throughout schools and communities.
“I think it’s hard to point out why exactly Alaska’s rape rate is so high, it’s hard because if we knew why people assaulted other people, we would have a good answer. I think that there are a lot of factors that play into the issue. Alcohol does not make people harm others – but I think it can play a big factor into a lot of situations,” Laura said. “Other factors involve cold weather, dark months… It’s hard to pinpoint the problem, it just kind of fluctuates.”
Ron McGee, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Communication who was previously the Chairman at STAR, thinks that education is a huge preventative measure that our state should seek.
McGee believes that Alaska has done an excellent job in educating young men and women on what rape is and why it is a problem, and that this is why our rape rate is significantly higher than other states — we know when to report it.
“I think it has a lot to do with how much alcohol is in the state; alcohol is clearly a huge factor in the amount of rapes in Alaska. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we report it, and we are more educated than other places when it comes to rape, and knowing what the definition of rape is,” McGee said.
Whether or not Alaska’s rape rate is because of the rural communities, alcoholism or if Alaskans really are more educated on the matter, it is imperative to spread awareness of sexual assault and allow the crime to be considered less of an act of tolerable violence and more of a severe form of domestic abuse.