The shame of Alaska: vast wealth, but little spent to protect its people

Summary: When urban Americans think of rural life, we often think of Mayberry RFD and placid law-abiding life seen on countless other TV shows. Community values; people who are salt-of-the-Earth, living in Libertarian paradises free of big government. There is a test case of this vision. We call it Alaska. Read these accounts. I hope you feel shame for our nation.

As always, the question is action. Are these news stories for citizens, or entertainment for subjects? If you live in Alaska, will you do anything? Are you passengers or crew of America?

Martin Luther King: Injustice

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Contents

  1. The bad news about rape in Alaska
  2. The worse news
  3. For more information
  4. Fantasy does not help

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(1) The bad news about rape in Alaska

Let’s do this in two steps. First the bad news.

First in a series of articles revealing the third world-like conditions in our midst: “Why is Alaska the rape capital of the US? Because we allow it.“, Carey Restino, op-ed in The Arctic Sounder, 5 April 2013 – Opening:

The statistics are sickening. One in every four women in Alaska will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The Alaska rape rate is 2.5 times the national average, and the child sexual assault rate in Alaska is close to six times the national average. For the Native Alaska population, the numbers are even rougher. One out of every three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped during her life, and three out of every four American Indian and Alaska Native women will be physically assaulted. Three out of four.

Eventually this has come to attention of the national media: CNN’s series on rape in America: looking at Alaska, 4 February 2014 — Opening:

“Alaska has an epidemic,” Gov. Sean Parnell told me. It’s not bear attacks or deadly roads. It’s rape and violence against women. Reported rape is more common in Alaska than any other state, according to 2012 FBI crime estimates. The per capita rate is about three times the national average. In America’s “Last Frontier” state, nearly 80 incidences of rape are reported per 100,000 people, the data show. Nationally, the rate is 27 per 100,000.

… A 2010 survey shows 59% of adult women in Alaska experience intimate partner violence, including threats, and/or sexual assault. And 37% suffer from rape or sexual violence.

(2)  The worse news about rape in Alaska

Now for the worse news, because “why” is often the most important question: “Why Rape Is Much More Common In Alaska“, Erin Fuchs, Business Insider, 26 September 2013 — Excerpt:

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Justice is blind

How did Alaska get to be such a dangerous place for women? Two possible causes are its high population of Native Americans — nearly 15% compared to the 1.2% national average — and its remoteness. South Dakota is also a rural state with a a high Native American population of nearly 9%.

Native Alaskans make up 61% of rape victims in the state, and Native Americans make up 40% of sex assault victims in South Dakota, The New York Times has reported. One in three Native American women has said she’s been raped in her lifetime, according to a frequently cited Justice Department report from 2000. Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than women of other races, that report found.

Nobody knows for sure why Native American women are so vulnerable to rape. Some experts blame alcoholism and the breakdown of the Native American family, The Times has reported. In the past, Native American tribes have not been allowed to prosecute non-Native Americans for raping members of their tribes, which also could have compounded the problem. (Obama recently signed a law that gives tribes more power to protect Native women, though.)

In very rural areas, like Alaska, women simply can’t rely on police to come help them if they’re raped. One 19-year-old Native Alaska woman who lived in a village of 800 called the police after a stranger broke into her home and raped her in the middle of the night, the Times reported in 2012. The police didn’t answer, so she left a message. They never returned her call.

One study found that just 11% of rapes reported to the Anchorage Police Department between 2000 and 2003 led to a conviction.

What does this mean? Here’s the bitter reality: we extract a vast fortune every year from Alaska’s minerals. We’re too cheap to provide basic police protection to rural communities — especially those who are mostly minorities. Maintaining order has been a characteristic of civilization for thousands of years. But not in America, where libertarians and conservatives advocate small government — except in their well-protected enclaves.

More about this sad situation: “The lawless ‘end of the land‘”, John D. Sutter, CNN, 4 February 2014 — Excerpt:

Over the course of several years, Beth’s boyfriend shattered her elbow, shot at her, threatened to kill her, lit a pile of clothes on fire in her living room, and, she told me, beat her face into a swollen, purple pulp. These are horrifying yet common occurrences here in the 200-person village of Nunam Iqua, Alaska, which means “End of the Land” in the Yupik Eskimo language. Yet the violence is allowed to continue in part because Nunam Iqua is one of “at least 75 communities” in the state that has no local law enforcement presence, according to a 2013 report from the Indian Law and Order Commission.

“There would be someone to call for help” if there were police, said Beth, a 32-year-old who asked that I not use her real name because her abuser is still free. “Someone who could actually do something — right there, as  soon as they get the call.”
Seems reasonable, huh? Not in rural Alaska. Here, state troopers often take hours or days to respond, usually by plane. The flight takes 45 minutes, at minimum. Alaska State Troopers will tell you they’re doing the best they can to police a state that’s four times the size of California and has very few roads. The challenges are daunting, to be sure, and I don’t blame the hard-working law-enforcement officers. But the logistics can’t be an excuse for impunity.

Alaska is failing people who need help most.

… The scope of the tragedy in Nunam Iqua, a Yupik Eskimo village, is unthinkable: Nearly every woman has been a victim of domestic or gender-based violence, rape or other sex crimes, according to women I met in town; a corrections officer in Bethel, Alaska, the regional hub; the director of the women’s shelter in Emmonak, Alaska; and Nunam Iqua Mayor Edward Adams Sr., whose wife was slashed across the face by a family member, he said …

Statewide, 59% of women suffer from intimate partner or sexual violence.

Sexual assault cases are 3 1/2 times as likely to be prosecuted in villages where the officers are present, said Andre Rosay, director of the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center. Rates of serious injury from assaults are also 40% lower in villages with a VPSO {Village Public Safety Officers}, he said.

… In October 2005, for example, a 13-year-old girl in Nunam Iqua was raped “on a bed with an infant crying beside her and her 5-year-old brother and 7-year-old cousin watching” during the more than four hours it took troopers to arrive by air from Bethel, according to an Amnesty International Report titled “Maze of Injustice.”

“After raping the girl, the man fired a shotgun, reportedly missing her by inches,” the report says. When I asked about the rape in the village, a few people said they didn’t remember it. Perhaps that’s because of so many subsequent tragedies. Or perhaps it’s because the emotional wounds are still too fresh.

Because response times are so long, some Nunam Iqua residents have stopped calling the authorities entirely, forced to handle urgent matters on their own.

… Basic services like medical care and fire service are largely missing. A medical professional only staffs a local clinic some days, because she must rotate to other villages. Paula Napoka, that health aid, said others have left the job because it’s dangerous. In 2010, health workers made headlines when they quit because of a “hostile environment” and refused to return without a trooper escort.

Eagle Scales Of Justice
He’s unhappy with us

More stories. Heartbreaking stories. Unnecessary stories. Disgraceful stories for America. “Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness“, Sara Bernard, The Atlantic, 11 September 2014  — Excerpt:

One night a few years ago, when Geneva was 13, a man she’d grown up with stumbled into the room she shared with her two sisters in Tanana, Alaska, a tiny village northwest of Fairbanks, and climbed on top of her. He was drunk and aggressive.

“He tried getting into my clothes,” she recalls. “He tried putting his hands under my shorts and inside my shirt.” She struggled and pushed, but he was years her senior and made of muscle; he pulled her on top of him. She kept pushing and yanking until she suddenly shot backwards and tumbled off the bed. “He was so blacked out, he was like still asleep; his eyes were closed,” she says. “I was watching his face, but his face didn’t move at all. His breathing was normal, but his hands…” She pauses, and the word hangs thickly in the air. “His hands felt like he was awake.”

Afterward, she ran into the living room and burst into tears, stuffing her face into a pillow so her parents wouldn’t hear. She didn’t tell them, then; she was scared and ashamed. “I guess I just felt like I was dirty. I guess that’s what victims feel like. They feel dirty and just want to clean everything off.”

The following summer, Geneva was fast asleep at her family’s fish camp downriver, while a group of adults drank and caroused in the next room. She awoke to someone tugging down her pants, reaching between her legs; she struggled and kicked, and he lumbered out of the room.

In fact, Geneva says, she’s been grabbed, chased, followed, and molested so much in her short life that she’s now made it a habit to lock the bedroom door at night and shove a chair under the knob so no one can come in; she’ll wait up, trembling, until everyone at a party is passed out cold before she can comfortably fall asleep. She’s learned to avoid being alone with friends’ dads, or with grandpas at village potlatches, or with boys at basketball games, who’ve repeatedly groped her breasts and buttocks. “It’s just random, like, you’ll think everything’s all normal and then you’ll feel something on your backside,” she says. “You just freeze.”

Geneva is a tall basketball player with bright eyes, rectangular black-framed glasses, and a wide, eager smile. She has no trouble listing accomplishments and affinities: She’s ambidextrous by choice, grew up doing all the rugged outdoor chores men do, raves gleefully over beloved local foods like fried moose heart and walrus in seal oil.

But for years, she felt scared, hypersensitive, and depressed. She never told her parents about the incident; she was too afraid of what would happen, and anyway, when she told one of her sisters, the only response she received was a dry laugh. “It happened to all of us,” her sister had said. “Just leave it alone.”

Growing up in Tanana, a town of 254, the prevalence of this kind of thing was common knowledge, but rarely discussed. Everyone knew the local elder who’d molested and raped his daughters and granddaughters for decades until he was arrested for touching another family’s girls; after four years in jail and another half dozen or so at a cabin downriver, he was back on the village tribal council. One of Geneva’s great aunts was molested and raped by an uncle for years; dozens of years later, the aunt’s grown daughter told her that the same uncle had molested her, too. Sometimes people pressed charges; most of the time, though, nothing happened. “These perverts travel from village to village, from potlatches to dances,” Geneva says. “And then they get drunk and you don’t know what they’re going to do.”

These things happen despite our wealth because we don’t care about our fellow Americans, about our women and children, or about justice. All the high tech and macho military adventures doesn’t make up for that.

(3)  For More Information about American justice

Other articles:

About justice in America:

  1. Sparks of justice still live in America – cherish them and perhaps they’ll spread, 11 September 2009
  2. An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America, 10 November 2009 — About our prisons
  3. Being a third world nation is a state of mind, as we will learn (about prison rape), 19 March 2011
  4. Our prisons are a mirror showing the soul of America.  It’s not a pretty picture., 28 March 2011
  5. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice System — Excerpts from The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz
  6. ore about the collapse of the American Criminal Justice System, 20 September 2011
  7. Final thoughts about America’s Criminal Justice System, 21 September 2011
  8. Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America, 28 May 2014

(4)  Fantasy does not substitute for collective action

Watching films about caped Jesus is fun, but not a substitute for collective action that can shape the real world.

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Injustice: Gods Among Us

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22 thoughts on “The shame of Alaska: vast wealth, but little spent to protect its people

    1. No too difficult to get angry over. When we decide to no longer be sheep, then these things will go away like last year’s snow. It’s not that America will be heaven, but rather we will confront greater challenges.

      It is a choice each of us must make as individuals. Reading these kind of news stories as entertainment — “to be well informed” in case God administers a citizens’ SAT — accomplishes nothing. Booze and dope are as effectual.

  1. Once again doing the right thing is too expensive. Add it to the list. Prosecuting bankers for fraud is too threatening to the status quo so we are told it is too expensive. Paying for our stupid wars? No way. Too expensive. Better to buy our own debt with printed money.
    What was that bumper sticker? If you think education is too expensive try ignorance? It’s like that only substitute justice, peace, and thinking for education and try rape, war, and chaos as tag lines.

  2. I find this sudden outburst of indignation a bit peculiar; after all, that appalling situation has been going on for decades and the corresponding statistics have been published for quite some time.

    Out of curiosity, I made a quick visit to the FBI site. In 2012, the rate (per 100000 habitants) of forcible rapes in Alaska was 79.7. In 1995, it was 80.2 (and was then already well above the rate in other States).

    So, why has the interest in the Alaskan case flared up in the past year?

    1. Guest,

      Why now? These things are IMO largely random. There is nothing special about the grain of sand that collapses the pile.

      Why did the civil rights movement begin in 1950’s and not the 1920’s? Social scientists have great skill at explaining the past, yet the future remains unknown.

      The larger question, IMO, is who cares? Why do you care that the issue erupted onto our consciousness now?

    2. “Why do you care that the issue erupted onto our consciousness now?”

      I have not read the series of articles listed and therefore can only provide a hunch: what is being surmised as causes of the violence, and what is being suggested as remedies in those articles should give a clearer view of what exact kind of consciousness is at play.

      Comparing with another current issue: the outbreak of ebola. It looks as if we are suddenly discovering that (a) deforestation and bush meat puts populations in contact with truly nasty viruses (b) the health systems in Africa are hopelessly under-staffed, under-resourced and under-dimensioned (they even wash their rubber gloves with chlorine to reuse them, because they have so few of them! shock!) (c) people there, as everywhere, have deeply ingrained cultural practices (such as washing corpses before burials, etc) that may unwittingly help propagate diseases. All of this has been known for decades.

      There is an outcry to do something — but first and foremost, because this time Whites are being contaminated and because the uncontrollable epidemic risks crossing the seas to the developed world. And the proposed solutions? Quarantine black people in their slums and shoot at them if they try to escape — or use them as guinea pigs for dubious experimental treatments.

      So again: what exactly does the MSM find so concerning about rapes and assault in Alaska now — when they were uninterested in the matter 20 years ago?

    3. Guest,

      You fascination with trivial suspects of this is disturbing, and suggests quite the empathy deficit.

      I suggest that if your young daughter was raped, those would not be the questions you asked. Perhaps you might ask about the lack of basic law enforcement mechanisms.

      Police are no magic bullet — there are no magic bullets, for anything. But asking about high crime in its absence seems a bit odd.

      Perhaps you should advocate an experiment — send you community’s police to some Alaska villages of comparable population. Let’s watch the change in crime rates. Perhaps the experience would focus your mind from the clouds to more earthly questions.

    4. Guest’s analysis is a nice example of the commonplace reading of America’s problems as entertainment. This leads to a focus on trivial aspects of the situation, and the fairly profound lack of change.

      Most recently examples discussed here are the revelations about government surveillance and police violence& militarization. Emotions, excitement, outrage, words — then the next show comes on the tube.

  3. So Alaska can’t afford to police itself? I’m not surprised – the state is four times the size of California, but that entire space has fewer residents than the city I live in. It’s also extremely remote by any measure.
    I suppose we could spend more money to rectify what is clearly a monumental systemic failure and a human tragedy in itself, but is that really the best solution for everyone? Alaska already has hugely more government spending per capita (Federal + State + Local) than any other state in the Union.
    So I have to ask the question why? Why is there anyone other than military personnel and oil workers living up there at the end of the world?
    Why would we support the isolated lifestyle that these people live (and apparently don’t much enjoy)? Maybe they’d be happier moving down to Vancouver, Seattle, or even Minnesota?
    Of course native people value their ancestral homelands and traditions, and who can blame them for that? But home is where the heart is, and I can’t imagine having much heart living in that kind of situation.
    I’ve always felt uneasy about Native Americans effectively living as third-class citizens in their reservations. They’ve unquestionably received the short end of the stick in our national history. Maybe they didn’t have much choice 100 years ago, but it’s 2014, and I can’t help but wonder if the culture and the people would do better to move on (literally) to greener pastures.

    1. Todd,

      “So Alaska can’t afford to police itself? I’m not surprised – the state is four times the size of California, but that entire space has fewer residents than the city I live in. It’s also extremely remote by any measure.”

      I assume (hope) you are kidding. The State of Alaska took in %16.5 billion in revenue from oil and gas in 2012 (AK govt website). The Permanent Fund was $42 billion in 2012. They can easily afford to provide police for those small villages. The cost would be a tiny fraction of the annual revenue. They just don’t care.

  4. As a father, and a grandfather, I would probably be in jail if someone raped my daughters or grand-daughters. As for more police that would be some type of deterrent, however, it would just sublimate the problem. The problem is the mindset of our society, there’s a sickness in our souls. It is difficult to even discuss it because reason fails me, and all I see are the faces of the victims.

    1. We have police in my town, and that’s what they are, “some sort of deterrent.” I am not saying police in the small villages are not a good idea, however, in the small town I lived in until recently we depended on a network of neighbors more than the county sheriff’s office whom often took an hour or so to arrive if they bothered to come. If the town had had the funding available that Alaska has we could have paid our one part time officer (who basically worked the weekend) to have been full time. People accept boundaries placed on their actions, people are individuals first, we last. It is not rocket science to be taught not to beat or rape, societies much older than ours addressed these problems. From what I read there seems to be a lot of alcoholism involved, and tribal decay. After reading the article I turned to the net to see if there were any scholarly articles and study about pre-contact versus post-contact violence. I’ll hopefully can come up with a more coherent explanation, but right now reason fails me.

  5. I think Sparrow Shadow is making a good point. Formal police and prison systems are a relatively recent invention in human societies. Was rape as prevalent in the past, and were informal kinship networks and social mores not mroe effective at ensuring basic human rights?

    Or am I being naive about the “good old days”?

    1. Brian,

      Yes, you are being naive. Police systems evolved because those informal systems provided little protection for the weak.

      Hence all those old time country “jokes” with punch lines like “If she’s not good enough for kin, she’s not good enough you you.”

  6. Just want to give an insiders opinion on this article. I won’t argue the stats because they are everywhere to see. What I will say is this article is not a complete picture of what it takes to “police” rural Alaska. The excerpts given and interviews are just the tip of the iceberg. The “vast wealth” you used in your title isn’t even the problem. If you want to see what the real problems are getting law enforcement in these places then you need to look at the tribal councils, city councils, regional tribal corporations and any other governments running these small communities. They refuse to have law enforcement brought in. They refuse to work with the state on many issues and blame the state for all their problems. I can tell you first hand how this has played out in several communities over the years and not just in Alaska. Using your example of sexual assault. John assaults Jane, Jane reports the assault, John is arrested, John is a council member or related to one, Jane is persecuted by family and community members, Jane is threatened with and will have no chance of retaining a job in her community, John is defended in court, Jane is bullied and will not testify against John, the officer who arrested John will not have a job after his contract runs out because the employer has an “at will” hiring practice, John goes back to work like nothing ever happened, Jane has to continue living on as a victim with no justice. None of this had anything to do with the state or its money or lack of law enforcement. So if you really want to paint a BIG picture of Sexual Assault, Suicide, Alcoholism, or any other negative subject you can use to make this great state look bad, look deeper into the core of these societies that are allowing these things to happen with in their village and city limits and not at the stretched thin resources of the state that are doing the best they can to police places that don’t want to be policed. Force these places to change. Air out their dirty laundry and force them to clean up their leadership. Then and only then will the stats change for the better. JMO

    1. Thank you for your additional color on this complex situation. I agree there is no magic bullet.

      On the other hand, these are not unique problem in US history. They were –and a degree still are — endemic to many poor isolated areas, such as Native American reservations in the lower 48, and Appalachia.

      I have personal experience in the latter. Social service agencies, grossly under-funded and poorly supported, have worked in these communities since the 1930s — with an impressive degree of success.

      It is a commonplace in America today to look at problems we are not even making minimal attempts — relatively easy and obvious steps — and declare surrender because nothing can be done. It’s not an opinion I have sympathy with, especially when it comes to protection of the weak.

      Most serious problems are complex, with deep roots. Their solution begins with taking the first step to reform. We have the ability. In Alaska we have the money. We lack only the will. If the first step was tax cuts for oil companies, I suspect it would be done with blinding speed.

  7. I for one understand the history having lived in Alaska half my life. The problem I have with this article is it places the state, the money and the problems of rural Alaska in the same basket. That is not the case at all. If all the sexual assaults and lack of law enforcement were all on the road systems and in the major towns and cities on the road systems such as in the lower 48 then I would say you are right. That is not the case here. You have tribal villages run by tribal governments who are under tribal corporations who are federally recognized. The only way you will clean them up is by involving the federal government agencies such as BIA to force changes. Otherwise all the state can do is send in a Trooper to investigate, arrest and leave and then watch nothing change. There are many second and first class cities off the road system, many have some sort of law enforcement such as VPO’s VPSO’s or local PD. These communities are over seen by hub Troopers and serviced by magistrates or hub court judges. Most don’t have lawyers and attorneys at their beckon call. My community is run by fishermen and their families. It doesn’t have an AA program but we have a bar and liquor store, why? Because it doesn’t want one. The money is there, the counselors are available but no clientele. The state has no say as to what resources we require here. Unless we want something they can’t force it. With that said, I am curious as to how you think we can change the sad stories above and make people care about what is going on. You can’t violate civil rights, constitutional rights or state laws and force a community to change. You can’t blame the state for what happens in a tribal village without looking at the understanding between the tribal entity and the state or lack of. And if change is needed somewhere do you suggest the Feds send guys in with black suits or tactical polos and force a place to change? Where in this picture can you really blame the State of Alaska for the crime and corruption in these communities. And if you are truly blaming them and saying the state doesn’t care I would also love to hear your solutions on how to make this a better place to live.

    1. Yes, involving the BIA is necessary where they have jurisdiction. I don’t see how that is a rebuttal to anything in this article, as it are few recommendations — and certainly not on the agency level.

      Three other details. First, (for readers, you know this well) this is an Alaskan problem. Not a Native American one. So the State has a big role to play.

      Second, police are just one of the social services professionals needed to address this situation. Long-term they are perhaps the least effective (albeit they provide a fast impact, and open the way for others).

      As I said, this has been played out before. There are always vital local circumstances to take into account. But with work and time progress can be made.

      Last, social problems are never binary. Solvable (it’s now Heaven!) or unsolvable. That’s just a framing for people who wish to do nothing. It is the “false dilemma” logical fallacy.

  8. Your last two statements are why I had such an issue with this article. You perfectly outlined, with stats mind you, the problem with “rape” in Alaska. You pinned the blame on the State of Alaska and its not using or sharing its “vast wealth” in these areas of topic. With all the nice links and excerpts above you finely detailed other peoples work for this blog. What you didn’t include was the reasons this is an ongoing problem (not to be confused with the causes of the problems) nor did you identify a solution, short or long term, to correct these issues. I am telling you and your readers, the money is there, the programs are available, the staffing is available. The willingness to implement them by the suffering communities are not. In my statement above I outlined tribal, second class and first class cities not just Alaska Natives. Women as a whole are being abused and even some men. Until you come out and see how hard it is to create change in rural Alaska I would suggest keeping your topics on tract. The blame is historical, the blame is within the societies of the victims, the blame you outlined is highly miss placed. Please don’t dirty the great state I love with incomplete research and for future reference, don’t post topics like this as a problem unless you have a solution to go with it. I work with many educated, loving and very caring people to solve and correct issues like this in my community. I have seen success and I have seen failure. The only lack of caring I have ever witnessed is from leadership that refuses to admit there is a problem and refuses to let healing begin when someone is hurt by them. If you want to help those victims in your article above then outline their stories and place the blame on the perpetrators and ask the question “Why do these people still have power and positions of authority, why do they not have or support law enforcement or women services in their community, name names, name communities, quote lack of city law or protective ordinances and embarrass these communities into change. When you take away their power and hiding places and put the truth out there with all the facts then change will happen from the top down. Like I said in my first statement I speak from experience. Do the research, do the math and good luck with your future articles.

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