Western Alaska has most reported felony sex crimes
Most victims know their attackers, report shows
By Shady Grove Oliver
The Arctic Sounder
Western Alaska, which includes the Northwest Arctic Borough, is the most dangerous part of the state for women and girls in terms of sexual violence.
Nearly four times as many felony-level sex offenses were reported in the western portion of the state than in the far north, which includes the North Slope Borough.
That's according to a recent statewide report based on information compiled from law enforcement agencies around Alaska. The North Slope Borough Police Department, the Kotzebue Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers C Detachment, which covers the Northwest Arctic, Bering Straits Region and parts of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region, all participated.
This report, released by the Department of Public Safety, collated data on rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse and other felony-level sex crimes.
Across Alaska, 63 percent of these crimes were sexual assault, 28 percent were the sexual abuse of a minor, 5 percent included indecent exposure or exploitation of a minor, 3 percent were child pornography and 1 percent was sex trafficking.
It's important to note that many instances of rape and child sexual abuse go unreported, so numbers in reports like these are likely significantly lower than the number of crimes actually committed.
Likewise, Alaska has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country, meaning these numbers are already high when taken in comparison to data from other states.
In Alaska, many of the victims are young teenagers — children — whose attackers are older, but usually known to them either as a family member or an acquaintance. Victims are usually women and girls and are most often attacked in a home. More than half of the victims are Alaska Native.
Western Alaska is a large region that stretches from Kotzebue and Nome, down through Bethel and out to the Aleutians. In 2016, there were 329 reported felony sex offenses in the area, which has a population of 73,696. That means there were just over 446 of these crimes reported per 100,000 people.
That's a striking number, especially in comparison to what's seen in the northern region, which includes the Slope, the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area and Fairbanks. There, only 123 such crimes were reported for a population of 124,566. That means there were about 99 felony sex offenses for every 100,000 people.
Anchorage fell below Western Alaska with a rate of about half as many, at 262 per 100,000. Southeast was half that again, at 125 per 100,000. The least number of offenses were reported in Southcentral at a rate of about 65 per 100,000 people.
Statewide, there was a 14 percent increase in the number of reported felony sex offenses from 2015 to 2016.
"An increase in reporting may, but does not necessarily, mean an increase in actual crime," noted Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in a letter to the governor and attorney general, introducing the report.
In a breakdown of victim and perpetrator demographics, it noted the most common victim in the state is a 14-year-old girl who is attacked in a home. The most common suspected perpetrator is a 19-year-old man who knows her.
The age of the most common victim is the same in Northern and Western Alaska, though the most common perpetrator is much older in the west — a 27-year-old, compared to a 22-year-old in the north.
Most victims are women — 87 percent — and over the age of 18 — 50 percent. A third are between the ages of 11 and 17 and 18 percent are 10 years old or younger.
The vast majority of victims in Western Alaska are Alaska Native — 92 percent. This is somewhat in keeping with the demographics of many of the villages in the region, which are predominantly Native.
However, while Alaska Natives make up more than half of all sexual assault victims in the state, they make up only about a quarter of the population, meaning they are disproportionately at risk.
In the northern region, 60 percent of the victims were Native, while 34 percent were white.
Another dismaying set of data shows that the younger the victim, the more likely they were attacked by a family member. For victims ranging from infants to 10-year-olds, 57 percent of the perpetrators were family members, while 42 percent were known acquaintances. Only 1 percent of young victims were attacked by strangers.
For all victims, including adults, 28 percent were assaulted by family members and 68 percent by known acquaintances. Still, only 4 percent of the crimes were perpetrated by strangers.
Most of these felony-level sex offenses did not include a weapon, the report noted.
The information is sobering, especially when taken in context of national numbers and the understanding that many crimes never come to light at all.
"Education, awareness and action most often lead to an increase in reporting of sexual and domestic violence, providing more opportunities to provide both support and services to victims and increase offender accountability," said Monegan in the letter.
He noted the state is "fortunate" to have access to this kind of data in order to better confront the issue and "give us a clear path forward to enhance our strategic work to reduce, prevent and end sexual violence across Alaska."
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual or domestic violence, there are resources to help, including local law enforcement.
For the North Slope Borough, Arctic Women in Crisis is able to provide emergency shelter and counseling to victims of sexual and domestic violence. AWIC's 24-hour crisis number is 1-800-478-0267 or 907-852-0267.
For the Northwest Arctic Borough, the Maniilaq Family Crisis Center can provide both emergency shelter and counseling. They can be reached at 907-442-3969.
More information on resources and contacts can be found at www.andvsa.org (Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault).
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is also available 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). More information is available at rainn.org.
Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at email@example.com.