Village crime victims in Alaska need intervention, senators told

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee today heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities. Gerad Godfrey, chairman of Alaska’s Violent Crime Compensation Board, cited a few of the state’s grim statistics.

“In Bethel (and) the surrounding villages, there’s, on average, one rape or child sexual abuse case reported every other day,” he said.

Godfrey says a victim in a village might be flown to a hospital, sometimes as far as Anchorage, for evidence collection, with no advocate. Worse, Godfrey says, often there’s no investigation and family members tell young victims to keep quiet.

“If they don’t feel that what happened to them is serious, and it was very bad, and somebody cares, our opportunity to restore them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, probably passes,” he said. “But beyond that, they are also more likely to perpetuate that as they grow older.”

Disturbing testimony

Godfrey spent part of his childhood in Bethel, when his father, Glenn Godfrey, was assigned to the State Trooper post there. He says he recalls 3rd and 4th grade friends casually discussing abuse and which kids had been victimized.

Godfrey’s testimony, and the stories told from other states, stunned Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat.

“Who could sit in this room and not be horrified?” she asked. “One of almost every three children between the ages of 11 and 13 tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, on Fort Peck. In what world aren’t we horrified? Your testimony, Mr. Godfrey — I’m horrified. I’m horrified by all of this.”

Heitkamp and Sen. Lisa Murkowski pushed a bill through the Senate last week to establish a national commission on Native children. It’s awaiting action in the House.

Need for sexual assault response teams

Godfrey says the single biggest help would be money for rural sexual assault response teams. As he sees it, they’d fly to a community right after a report, to both help the victim and gather evidence. He also advocates for abuse-prevention education in schools, an idea the Alaska Legislature is wrestling with.

Murkowski says leaving that decision to each school district isn’t a good solution.

“In some of our small communities, where our school boards are making these decisions, it may be that some of our school board members are part of our problem, and they don’t want to see these things – prevention education – included in the schools,” Murkowski said.

She says the rate of violence in Indian Country and in Native villages  is not a new problem, and she’s seen hearings like this one every few years.

“We just say these statistics over and over and over again,” Murkowski said, lamenting the lack of services to victims, and the lack of prosecutions.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Time for action: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission releases recommendations, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Nordics report high abuse levels against women, Radio Sweden

Finland: Finland ‘downplays’ suicide figures says expert, Yle News

Iceland: Iceland has first fatal police shooting, The Associated Press

Russia: Why high suicide rates in Arctic Russia?, Deutsche Welle’s Ice-Blogger

Sweden:  Reports of violent crime increasing in Sweden’s North, Radio Sweden

United States: Survey finds violence against women widespread in Western Alaska region, Alaska Public Radio Network

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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