More than half of all children are exposed to some form of violence, crime or abuse, according to the Department of Justice.
Evidence suggests those numbers are far worse for Alaska Natives.
In fact, in both urban and rural areas of Alaska and the Lower 48, Alaska Native women and children are experiencing violence at rates so staggering that the attorney general’s office has created the American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence Task Force to work with the native population to find a solution.
Voice after voice, from every corner of the country and out of the heart of Alaska, shared stories of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and children Wednesday.
“He let go of my neck right before I passed out,” said Elizabeth Medicine Crow as she read a letter from a victim of violence during public testimony.
“I have relatives, I have friends in Interior Alaska that have gone through sexual abuse, domestic violence,” another man shared.
The outcry from the nation’s original people has been heard, according to U.S. Associate Attorney General Tony West, who is one part of the Obama Administration’s American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence Task Force. The task force and advisory committee is in Anchorage for its fourth and final public hearing.
“When you look at Native Americans, whether you’re talking about in Alaska or the Lower 48, there are elevated levels of violence against women, violence against children,” West said. “And when you come to Alaska, you actually see that exacerbated. It’s worse.”
The task force has been touring the nation, hearing suggested solutions from the people they’re working to protect.
Some call for better law enforcement, requesting more Village Public Safety Officers and drug-sniffing dogs at airports.
Other suggestions ask for the tools needed to address the impact of Western culture on native culture.
“Our ancestors, our leaders have been fighting this for a long time and they’ve already identified that the best way to solve our problems is to restore who we are culturally,” Medicine Crow said.
While the task force continues working to address the violence plaguing Alaska Native women and youth, West says all community members can help victims begin healing by simply paying attention.
“Support children, recognize signs of trauma, recognize signs of violence,” West said. “Also, be a part of the trauma-informed care that children exposed to violence really need.”
One of the most important aspects to a child’s recovery, according to West, is familial and community support.