Moving America Forward

How to Fix Alaska’s Culture of Sexual Violence

February 6, 2014
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How to Fix Alaska’s Culture of Sexual Violence
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In a must-read investigation by CNN, columnist John D. Sutter explores why Alaska has the most rape cases in the country — and how to stop the cycle.

Alaska is America’s “Last Frontier,” one of the most breathtakingly beautiful states. But it also has a dark side: the highest rates of rape and sexual violence in the country. According to 2012 FBI crime data, an estimated 80 rapes are reported in Alaska for every 100,000 people. That’s nearly three times the national average. To determine why these violent acts are occurring so often — and more importantly what can be done to stop them — CNN columnist John D. Sutter spent two weeks in the state for his investigative report, “The Rapist Next Door”, interviewing perpetrators, victims and politicians, as part of the Change the List project.

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Sutter tells the story of Sheldon, a man who raped and molested his stepdaughter, Alice, but still lives in a shack directly next door to the family home. (Names have been changed to protect the subjects’ identities.) This may seem counterintuitive, but the proximity is part of a new treatment program centered on offenders. In this program, Sheldon has a “safety net” of five community members, including his wife, Ruth, who make sure that he cannot hide from what he did, but more importantly, won’t be able to harm someone again. According to the program’s director, of 90 sex offenders who have entered the treatment — to be fair, a small sample — the recidivism rate is about 2 percent. To put that in perspective, 5.3% of 9,691 sex offenders nationwide re-offended within three years.

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Ruth thinks that Sheldon can change, and Alaska can, too, with more programs that attempt to rehabilitate and support offenders. But the transformation won’t be easy. Sutter hypothesizes that the rape rate is so high because the crimes are tolerated, especially in some remote areas, where law enforcement is scarce and alcohol abuse is common. So, these are some logical reasons, but how can the culture be changed? Sutter writes: “Policy shifts are important, to be sure. The state should broaden the power of tribal courts; expand law-enforcement in rural Alaska; increase the number of women’s shelters, so fewer victims will have to hop a plane to find safety; and expand sex-offender treatment programs like the one in which Sheldon participates.”

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But you can help, too. CNN has a comprehensive (and vetted) list of five simple ways to make a difference. To get started, here is the condensed version:

And to better understand the realities of Alaska’s rape problem, don’t forget to read Sutter’s extensive report on CNN.

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