AST: Reports of sexual assaults to agency increased by 15% in 2018
For decades, law enforcement officials in Alaska have known sexual assaults are under-reported. Now, as reports of rape rise statewide, agencies are not sure whether the numbers indicate more crime, an increase in victims choosing to come forward, or both.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report for 2018 was released at the end of September, showing an 11% increase in the rate of reported rapes across Alaska from 2017 to 2018. Violent crime also reached a five-year high, even as the number of murders hit its lowest point since 2014. The report features crime data from 32 law enforcement agencies, which represent about 95% of Alaska’s population, according to DPS.
Alaska State Troopers saw reports of sexual assault increase by 15%, according to spokesperson Megan Peters.
"The report itself doesn’t go into the whys, but anecdotally, we know from our cases that some of this is represented by people that are adults and when they come in to report, they’re not [just] reporting what happened in 2018, they’re reporting something that happened in 2017 and then, 'Oh by the way, this happened to me again in 2011,' or, 'this happened in 2015,' so that, even though it’s one person coming in at one time to report a rape, they’ve reported then four or five incidences," she said.
Peters said as awareness about how pervasive the issue of sexual assault is spreads through events like the #MeToo movement, it's possible the numbers are influenced by a increase in victims feeling safe to come forward and report crimes from the past.
"People are realizing, 'Hey, it’s not just me. This is something that happens to men, it’s something that happens to kids, it’s something that happens to that lady over in that neighborhood that I never even thought of, it happened to my school teacher, maybe.' So they’re really seeing that it’s not their shame, it’s somebody that’s doing something bad to them and then they’re coming forward," she said.
Peters continued, "It’s really about changing the societal attitudes towards these crimes."
Year after year, Peters said reports like the FBI's UCR report indicate there's more work to be done to address sexual violence in Alaska.
"We’re always telling ourselves, this needs to stop," she said.
According to the report, 1,188 rapes were reported to 32 law enforcement agencies across the state in 2018. The report states 1,100 are considered completed offenses, while 88 are considered attempts. Additionally, the month of October saw the most, with 190 rapes.
"Since 2014, October has, on average, the highest number of rape offenses of any month, averaging 92 rapes per month," the report reads.
October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month.
"We’re telling people and encouraging people, speak up," Peters said. "If something’s not happening to you but somebody else, speak up. Not only that, when you do speak up, guess what, these resources are available."
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, resources are available on the Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) website or by calling the statewide crisis hotline at (800) 478-8999.
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