Chronic Violence Against Women in Alaska

The state of Alaska has one the highest rates of violence against women and girls in the United States. Nearly 60% of Alaskan women report having experienced domestic or sexual violence. In some remote villages, the rate of violence may reach 100% of women. The prevalence of rape in Alaska is three times the U.S. average, and in 2010, Anchorage and Fairbanks had more rapes per capita than any other city the country. Experts say even these “staggering” statistics do not reflect the full extent of the problem due to under-reporting of violent crimes against women, a particular challenge in Alaska where women face cultural pressures to avoid “shaming” a male elder or relative.

According to a recent report in the Atlantic, many risk factors for violence are at play in Alaska, including “an abundance of male-dominated industries . . . [and] the state’s vast geography, with many communities that have no roads and little law enforcement.” These factors help create a culture of impunity that makes it easy for “perpetrators to isolate their victims and not get caught.” Victim services and support are limited or non-existent, particularly in remote areas. A public health nurse who visits Alaskan villages told the Atlantic that 75% of her work involves treating patients for domestic and sexual violence. 

Until recently, chronic abuse of women and children in Alaska was rarely acknowledged in public because it was “bad luck” or “taboo.” Many believed the generational cycle of violence could not be broken. However, in recent months, more victims have been willing to speak about their trauma or seek help from informal women’s groups.

The state of Alaska has tried to increase the presence of law enforcement in remote Alaskan villages and to train officers in the proper handling of domestic violence and sex crimes. According to the Atlantic, these efforts have fallen short, due to the centralized nature of Alaskan law enforcement that generally requires urban police or state troopers to travel long distances to investigate crimes in rural areas.  Additionally, local residents do not trust outside law enforcement, but are often unwilling to police their own villages. 

Compiled from: Bernard, SaraRape Culture in the Alaska Wilderness, The Atlantic (September 11, 2014).