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“I told him to stop and get off” of me, Samuel told me. “He wouldn’t.”
The rape happened behind an abandoned building when he was 15, Samuel told me. Samuel, who is gay, has flashbacks to the rape whenever he gets close to someone now – especially if they’re about to become intimate. He worries he will be raped again. That fear, and the flashbacks, have led to depression, shame and failed relationships and some trouble with substance abuse and the law.
The one bright spot in it all, he said, is what his dad told him.
“‘It’s not your fault, (Samuel),'” he recalls Sheldon saying. “‘It’s not your fault.'”
He raped you. Only he is to blame.
If anyone can say that, it would be a rapist.
After talking with dozens of people in Alaska, here are the best theories I heard about why the state has the highest rape rate in the country:
- The history of cultural trauma, abuse, disease and dislocation imposed on Alaska Native villages has led to a cycle of despair and violent behavior.
- Rape is tolerated in some communities; when victims like Claire come forward, they’re not believed or told to forget what happened.
- Offenders are too rarely punished. Of nearly 1,000 cases of sexual assault studied by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, 46% were referred for prosecution and 22% resulted in a conviction. It’s difficult to compare those rates with other states, said Andre Rosay, from the justice center. What’s clear, he said, is that “the biggest hurdle really is in getting the case referred for prosecution, “especially in villages with no local law enforcement presence. Sexual assault cases are 3 ½ times as likely to be prosecuted in communities with a Village Public Safety Officer, he said.
- The state is so large – four times the size of California – and so sparsely populated, that it’s nearly impossible to police. State troopers must fly to many remote villages, and that can take days, depending on the weather.
- Long winters make it easy for offenders to perpetrate the crime.
- There’s a high rate of alcohol abuse, which doesn’t cause rape, but can lower inhibitions for would-be offenders and can be used as a date-rape drug.
If I placed a bet, it would be on a seventh reason: the silence.