Sex crimes in Alaska: The most common victim is a 14-year-old girl assaulted in a home

Reports of felony sex offenses rose 14 percent from 2015 to 2016. (Pexels/Pixabay)
Alaska’s sex crime victims mainly are young — just children, really. They most often are targeted in someone’s home. And they usually know their attacker.

A new state report provides a detailed and disturbing snapshot of serious sex crimes in Alaska. It’s the second year the state Department of Public Safety has produced an analysis of felony sex offenses, an effort that took many more years to bring together, according to Walt Monegan, public safety commissioner.

Reports of felony sex offenses – which include rape, sex abuse of children, child pornography and sex with incapacitated individuals — rose 14 percent from 2015 to 2016, the new document says. The data is based on initial reports to law enforcement.

That one-year increase conflicts with the findings of a separate study that drew on telephone interviews of adult women for its information, a study that suggests a decline in sexual violence.

The Alaska Victimization Survey was done by the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the University of Alaska Justice Center in 2010 and again in 2015. While the first survey revealed that an alarming 37 percent of Alaska women who participated had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, the follow-up found an encouraging decrease in recent violence. Some 2.9 percent of women in 2015 reported past-year sexual violence compared to 4.3 percent in 2010.

More than half of sex crime victims are minors

Now comes the new report, dated Oct. 26 and quietly posted on the state website as a supplement to an annual uniform crime report for the FBI. It uses a different data source from the telephone survey and is based on reports to law enforcement. It also includes child victims. More than half of the reported sex crimes involve victims under age 18.

In all, 1,542 incidents involving felony sex offenses were reported in 2016, up from 1,352 the year before. These are initial reports for which the investigation may have not even yet begun, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Maybe reports are up, but not sexual assaults themselves, Monegan said in a letter accompanying the report. Efforts to reach him Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The sex offense database “is not intended to track the life cycle of an incident; it is to provide insight into the volume and type of sex offenses being reported to law enforcement,” the report said.

Not all reports included data on victims and suspects, but many did. Anchorage police, for instance, didn’t include those details in 2015, but did in 2016.

Key findings from the new report:

— More than half of the victims – 54 percent – are Alaska Native, far bigger than the overall 20 percent share of the population that is Alaska Native.

—  Alaska Native girls and women are the most at risk of being sexually assaulted or abused in almost every part of Alaska. Only in Southcentral with Anchorage excluded – an area that includes the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough — are white people the most often victimized.

— The problem of sex assault and abuse is magnified in Western Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands, Bethel, Kotzebue, Nome, Dillingham and surrounding villages. The rate of sexual offenses in that region is 446 incidents per 100,000 people compared to 262 per 100,000 in Anchorage and 66 in Southcentral, the report said.

— While the most common victim is a 14-year-old girl, the most common suspect is a 19-year-old male. But in the cases of the youngest victims, from infants up to 10-year-olds, suspects are young too, most often just 14 years old, the report said. For victims age 18 on up, the suspects are older too, most commonly 31.

 — When the victim is male, it’s most often a young boy just 5 years old, the report said.

— Some 47 percent of suspects are Alaska Native. About one-third are white. Some 97 percent are male. Suspects and victims tend to be the same race, except for black suspects, whose victims most often are white, the analysis found.

— Almost all the victims and suspects knew each other. Just 4 percent of the attackers were strangers, and for the youngest children, only 1 percent were targeted by someone unknown, the analysis found. Most suspects were acquaintances. Some were relatives. A few were boyfriends or girlfriends. In five instances, the suspect was the baby sitter.

— Almost three-quarters of reported sex offenses happened in a residence, the report said. Others occurred on tribal lands and in woods, in motels or at school and college, in bars and alleys, jails and parks. One was reported in a grocery store and one in a church.

— Some 15 percent of sex offenses involved weapons, mainly fists and feet. Guns and knives were reported in just seven incidents.

Developing new strategies

The analysis will help the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault frame new strategies to curb violence, Monegan said in the letter.

“That is something the council is just undertaking now,” said Rachel Gernat, a former sex crimes prosecutor and council chairwoman. The report identifies who is most vulnerable as well as the geographic areas that most struggle with sexual violence, all of which can help shape policy, she said.

“How do we amend what we do to address specific issues in specific areas, that might not be in other areas?” she said.

Already the council is promoting programs that Monegan said make a difference, including Coaching Boys into Men, which encourages high school coaches to use their influence to shape attitudes of players in a healthy way, and Girls on the Run, an after-school program that guides social and emotional as well as physical development.

Monegan, in his letter, said the state is lucky to have the analysis. It “provides a wealth of information to frame and inform our work to improve Alaska’s response to sexual violence.”

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