Op-ed: The grim reality of sexual assault in Alaska
Alaska is known for many things: the Northern Lights, wildlife, Denali National Park, endless scenery, and a booming tourism industry. Its residents are privy to legalized cannabis and its growing popularity among the rest of the United States; however, some of our awareness must also be adjusted toward focusing on some of our not so beautiful statistics and facts.
In 2012, Forbes Magazine published a list including ten of the most dangerous cities in America for women. Alaska has two cities that are listed in the top tier. With a population of approximately 38,000, Fairbanks ranks as the third most dangerous city for women in America with a violent crime rate of 783 per 100,000 citizens. With a population of approximately 313,000, Anchorage ranks as the second most dangerous city in America for women with a violent crime rate of 813 per 100,000 citizens.
What is the correlation, one might ask. If we, as citizens, are turning a blind eye to the intersection between sexual misconduct and its physical, mental, and emotional effects, then we are also turning a blind eye to both public health and public safety. Though there is societal awareness surrounding women as being the most frequent victims of sexual assault, there are also specific demographics of women who suffer more frequently than others.
According to the National Institute of Justice in 2016 more than half (56.1 percent) of Native American and Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Among those women, 96 percent have experienced sexual violence at the hands of non-Native American perpetrators. They are also twice as likely to experience sexual assault in their lifetime in comparison to all other races.
Keep in mind that these statistics are solely based on reported instances of violence and the vast majority of sexual assaults remain unreported. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to the police. Those that are reported won’t always be taken seriously either. This can be confirmed by the presence of over 3,000 untested sexual assault kits unveiled by an Alaska Department of Public Safety audit in November 2017.
Consider this: as per estimate by the American Civil Liberties Union at least 95 percent of campus sexual assault in the U.S. goes unreported. We are lacking and negligent. There is a lack of resources for indigenous women in America, peer and federal support for sexual assault survivors, and adequate sex education.
There is negligence surrounding the incarceration of sexual assault perpetrators and a recycling culture of adults who keep failing to comprehend the concept of consent. Where there should be an abundant landscape of resources for survivors of sexual assault instead lies a barren wasteland.
The sex conversation that most parents have with their children most likely does not cover the topic of consent. Furthermore, sex education in America is not only underdeveloped, but it encompasses the use of scare tactics and dramatic images of STD and STI outbreaks that are almost too repulsive to look at.
When we combine a lack of sex/gender education in our school systems, and a lack of sex/gender education from parents, we receive a generation of adults that do not know what healthy sexual relationships look like and, more insidiously, refuse to educate themselves on said topics because college students already have their cups full.
The Title IX trainings are an inconvenience for the majority of students, because students have felt as if they didn’t need to know or already did know the information the training shared. Whether you think you know the information or not, statistical evidence reveals that you know someone who has been affected by sexual misconduct in our state. That alone should be reason enough to complete the course. There have been a few different ideas behind how these trainings can be altered to be more interactive; however, a conversation on sexual assault in a classroom is easier said than done.
The topic of sexual assault will always be triggering for sexual assault survivors. There is no easy way to approach such conversations. I can say this, however: the online training option places students who have been sexually assaulted away from the harm of hearing inconsiderate and inaccurate remarks from fellow students in a classroom environment.
I hope students throughout the UA system are able to realize how close this issue is to home, how many people have been affected by this trauma, and the impetus that our campus administration has been given to develop mature dialogue surrounding sex and safety. It is a challenge to attempt to teach adults what it means to have consent; because it can feel pestering or uncomfortable.
Furthermore, the mention of privilege cannot be left out when discussing the mentality students have when this conversation arises—the privilege to feel unaffected by a societal issue, the privilege to ignore a wide source of trauma, the privilege to complain about a mandated training that did not harm you but inconvenienced you because it took time out of your day to reiterate valuable safety information.
As Alaskans, we have a profound obligation to address the issue of sexual assault in our state and to eliminate the “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture surrounding sex, relationships, and sexual assault on university campuses. In the words of our own Director of Women and Gender Studies, Alexander Hirsch, “Alaska should declare a sexual assault state of disaster.”
Whether or not our students and residents acknowledge this fact is up to each individual. I encourage you to truly reflect on the state of our state and take meaningful action using the resources our university provides.