This is rape month in the rape state where men pose more of a threat to women than in any other.
“Since 2014, October has, on average, the highest number of rape offenses of any month,” according to the newly released Crime in Alaska report from the Department of Public Safety. “In 2018, October recorded the highest number of rape offenses,
with 190 reported rapes.”
That’s more than three per day, and it widely accepted that rape is grossly underreported in the 49th state. A 2015 survey by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center found a third of women in the state saying they had been victims of sexual violence.
Native women, particularly in rural Alaska, are especially at risk.
“Alaska Native women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence,” the report said. “Among felony-level sex offense cases reported to Alaska law enforcement in
2017, Alaska Native women and girls comprised 42 percent of all victims.”
Alaska Native men, according to the newly released crime report, comprised 55 percent of the men arrested for rape last year. This in a state where Alaska Natives and American Indians comprise 15 percent of the population.
Not about race
This is not, however, a race issue. It is a socioeconomic issue.
When FiveThirtyEight reporters Kathryn Casteel, Julia Wolfe and Mai Nguyen probed the National Crime Victimization Survey last year they found what many other studies have found, a telltale link between poverty and rape.
While only 22 percent of U.S. households survive on incomes of less than $25,000 per year, they found 44 percent of rape victims live in such households.
“When you compare the lowest- and highest-income groups,” they wrote, “the difference in victimization rates is stark: People with household incomes of less than $7,500 reported a victimization rate of 4.8 incidents per 1,000 persons age 12 or older, which is 12 times the rate reported by those with household incomes greater than $75,000 (0.4 per 1,000).
“Research has shown an international link between poverty and sexual violence around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists poverty and lack of jobs as community risk factors for sexual violence. And people with low incomes, who have less access to resources, are more vulnerable to sexual assault; research by advocacy groups suggests that perpetrators are more likely to target victims who are less likely to report what happened.”
The Alaska Criminal Justice report does not specifically break down the number of rapes occurring in rural Alaska versus urban Alaska, but it does note “Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans are often disproportionately affected by sexual violence.
“The problem is particularly pronounced in Western Alaska. In 2016, the rate of sexual violence incidents per 100,000 people reported to law enforcement in Western Alaska was 106 percent greater than the rate in the Anchorage area. In a study of reports to the Alaska State Troopers, the largest volume of sexual assault and abuse cases was handled by the Bethel unit—by a substantial margin (24 percent of cases). The next largest
was the Fairbanks unit (at 16 percent of cases).”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 29 percent of the residents of the Bethel Census Area live in poverty. The percentage jumps to more than 37 percent in the adjacent Kusilvak Census Area also policed by Bethel-based troopers.
The poverty rate in Alaska is defined as a family of four living on $31,380 per year or less. That is almost $25,000 per year less than the MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates is needed for two working adults to support two children in Alaska.
The weight of poverty weighs heavily on rural Alaskans and especially on women in rural Alaska. The Anchorage Daily News and Politico are reporting what they believe to be a potential Pulitzer-Prize winning series of stories focused on how increased law enforcement in rural Alaska is the solution, but the problem appears to go deeper than simply putting a policeman in every village.
Why poverty drives up the rate of sexual violence is much debated though the link itself is clear. Lack of self-esteem, loneliness, empathy deficits, misunderstandings of intimacy, sexual fantasies and more on the part of rapists have been identified.
“Several authors have argued that the relationship between poverty and perpetration of sexual violence is mediated through forms of crisis of masculine identity,” the World Health Organization notes.
“…Modern-day ideals of manhood…place an emphasis on material consumption. Trapped in their slums, with little or no available employment, (men) are unlikely to attain either of these models or expectations of masculine ‘success’. In these circumstances, ideals of masculinity are reshaped to emphasize misogyny, substance abuse and participation in crime….”
Former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell began a program called “Choose Respect” to try to spark a discussion of these problems and change the way men across the state treat women. Though poo-pooed by some in Alaska as a sham, it drew some praise from outside the state.
And the Criminal Justice report to the Legislature this year suggested there is some merit to prevention programs.
“Apprehension and prosecution of sex offenders is only one component of reducing the high rates of sexual violence in Alaska,” the report said. “An even more effective (though longer-term) approach may be to focus on programs that will help prevent future sexual violence from occurring.
“Prevention programming not only reduces the rate of sexual violence, it is also cost-effective. A recent California study found that ‘prevention programs would lead to substantial cost savings: every prevented rape of an adult could save up to $163,800, and every prevented rape or sexual assault of a child could save up to $277,700.’ We also know that the estimated lifetime economic burden for victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence in the state of Alaska is an estimated $11 billion.
“Given these projections, it is clear that investing in prevention programming is a cost-saver for the state and its residents in the long run.”
Alaska continues to fund some prevention programs, but like everything in the state at the moment they are affected by a $1 billion budget shortfall. And at the end of the day, the elephant lurking in the room isn’t spending on prevention, it is simple poverty with its broad negative effects on society.
Johns Hopkins University sociologist Karl Alexander’s three-decade-long study of poverty in Baltimore has well documented that growing up poor is a sentence to a life of trouble.
“Contrary to the popular American narrative that everyone has equal access to opportunity as long as he or she is willing to work hard, the reality revealed by the study is grim,” John Hopkins Magazine would later report. “Education and hard work lift people from the inner city out of poverty only in exceptional cases. The vast majority born poor are almost certain to stay that way.
“Many of the middle-class children in the study progressed through life’s stages as expected: school, college, work, marriage, parenthood. But for poorer children, the picture was largely bleak….(with) stories of murdered friends and siblings, absent fathers, mothers too addicted to drugs or alcohol to provide basic care, dreams deferred. The researchers show how, at each step on the path to adulthood, neighborhood and family and school conspire to pass down advantage and disadvantage from generation to generation.”
Among the disadvantages being passed down to poor women in Alaska – already the rape capital of America – is an even greater chance of getting raped than their better-off peers. But their economic plight, or for that matter that of the man who rape them, has never been considered an issue worthy of discussion.
The Alaskans who notice the problem at all, and there aren’t all that many, seem mainly interested in ensuring those living in the state’s remote regions can continue to survive with the support of welfare and Medicaid.