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The Troubles Facing Alaska Natives

Streisand Neto, MSc International Politics

When we think of Alaska, what springs to mind are snow and Sarah Palin. However, what I unearthed is something striking and sinister. “I don’t think the state of Alaska takes sexual assault seriously” according to Elizabeth Williams, the Founder of the “No More Free Passes Campaign”. What Elizabeth Williams is referring to is the limited follow-ups of the Alaskan government to eradicate the rape culture that has affected Alaskan natives, which make up 20 percent of the population in that state.

“Sara Bernard, a writer for The Atlantic, identified Alaska as ‘the rape capital of the US’.”

When interpreting this remark from her article, titled “Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness”, it encouraged me to examine the statistics to validate this claim. As highlighted on the National Institute of Justice research report from 2010, “56.1 percent experienced sexual violence”. Similarly, the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, found “59 percent of Alaskan women have been victims of sexual assault”. These statistics suggest minimal government efforts to protect the Alaskan natives and bring the perpetrators to justice. A year before the report was released, the Alaskan governor Sean Parnell launched “Alaska Men Choose Respect”, a campaign which hosted “annual rallies” and provided incentives on areas surrounding “increased sentencing for sex offences”. What could be the mitigating reason behind eradicating these extreme crimes? And what does this go to show concerning the treatment of Alaska natives?

In answering the first question, the most prominent case of sexual violence was the Justin Schneider case, where an Alaskan native woman who was kidnapped and masturbated. It gathered mass outcry from the public, concerning the decision of Judge Michael Patterson, where he gave Justin a lenient sentence and has been interpreted by many as a “free pass”. In a video from AJ+, titled “How Alaska Natives Are Fighting Rape Culture”, it addressed the failure of the judicial system that caused mass protests and campaigns against the decision. In the video, Mike Patterson, who is also part of the “No More Free Passes Campaign” highlighted the racial discrimination of Alaska Natives, whereby he points firmly to the institutions which were created by the “white, womanizing, indigenous-hating”. The strength of his point is justified with the case of Justin Schneider: it did not meet the legal standards of a sexual assault case, which is appalling. When thinking about the second question, what it goes to show is the continued historical marginalisation of natives in general, with judges turning a blind eye to the native grievances.

In the lead up to the US midterm elections, there were significant pressures from the Natives against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The reason being was Kavanaugh’s recent sexual assault allegations. Their demands came in the form of advising the Republican Sen. Lisa to vote “no” to Kavanaugh. However, Umair Irfan, a writer for Vox addressed how other government officials announced: “their intentions to vote in favour of Kavanaugh’s nomination”.

The discrimination and sexual assaults against the Alaska natives is a notable epidemic. John Sutter listed states starting with those where rape cases are less frequent. Alaska topped the list with 79.7 reported rapes per 100,000, upholding Sara Bernard’s point of Alaska being the rape capital. Hopefully, with the “No Free Passes Campaign” and other advocates of judicial reform in protecting vulnerable and targeted Alaskan women, the appeal for change will resonate with the institutions.

Photo Credit: AJ+

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