Stopping Sexual Assaults Against Alaska Native Women
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
And with Alaska's horrific statistics, officials are worried about one group in particular.
Alaska Native women are more likely to become victims of sexual assault than any other group.
A problem some say might be solved by talking. In their lifetimes more than one third of Alaska Native women can expect to be raped and that they are 4.5 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than non-native women.
Experts say Alaska Native women are the state's number one target of a crime that keeps on happening.
“It’s a secretive behavior and usually a long, long time for individuals to come out and say this has happened to me,” said Leona Schick, a social worker with the Alaska Native Justice Center.
Schick works with female Alaska Native victims and says there is a big need in the community to get them to talk so they can heal.
“Any rape or sexual assault is one too many,” said Schick. “It affects how children behave in school, it affects maybe a women's ability to function through a day. If a woman cannot talk about what's happened to her then most likely it will come out in other ways.”
Other ways that often are harmful behaviors that can lead to them being victims again and again.
“It generates a great deal of trauma, very complex trauma, the person is so vulnerable that then it happens more than once,” said Melinda Freemon, Anchorage Services Division Director for Rural Cap’s Homeward program.
Many of the organization's clients are homeless Alaska Native women.
“It takes men and women saying 'this is enough, we will not tolerate this in our city, in our villages,'" said Freemon.
To get more people talking in the Alaska Native community, the focus is on men--calling them out to be warriors, encouraging them to fight to protect their loved ones.
The idea is to bring that warrior out in all of us to put a stop to sexual assaults and rapes that happen every single day.
“Southcentral Foundation is calling out men...to help address the issue,” said Katherine Gottlieb, President and CEO of Southcentral Foundation.
Working on healing for both victims and offenders, Southcentral's Family Wellness Warriors Initiative plan is to get results by breaking the silence to get people taking and sharing stories.
“People want to be a part of the healing process, they want to tell their story and they want to talk about the harm that has happened to them and how it has impacted their lives,” said Gottlieb. “It's more about walking out the harm that has happened in our own lives, so that there will not be anything repeated in the future.”
It's a change that officials say every person in Anchorage needs to take part in.
“We try to help the person rebuild their self-esteem and rebuild their sense of confidence so they can achieve their goals,” said Freemon.
That way, Alaska's women, sisters, moms and daughters won't have to worry about being harmed ever again.
“Alaska Native women who have this history are amazingly resilient and compassionate people,” said Freemon.
“They have a great deal of understanding of people's abuse and they are really willing to grow and change but they have to have support.”