Researcher in Dillingham to investigate Alaska’s high sexual assault rate

A researcher from University of California Irvine is in Dillingham to collect the experiences of sexual assault victims. The researcher is trying to figure out what causes the disproportionately high number of sexual crimes in rural Alaska.

There have already been a few studies that looked at the quantity of sexual assaults in rural Alaska. According to an FBI report, there were 80 reported rapes per 100,000 Alaskan residents in 2012 — that was the highest in the country.

Jeremy Braithwaite is a Ph.D candidate in criminal justice at the UC Irvine. Reading the reports on the high incidence of sexual assaults in Alaska, he noticed none offered conclusions as to why that is. The Californian packed his bags and moved to Alaska to see if he could help figure that out.

“I thought to myself why not go up there and peel back a few layers of the onion to really understand why this is happening a little bit more,” Braithwaite says.

Braithwaite’s research is unique because it goes beyond documenting the magnitude of the problem, as other studies have done before, but trying to explain why the problem exists in the first place.

He started interviewing women in Dillingham about two months ago. So far 9 women have participated in his study.

“And when you look at a very small community like Dillingham, Alaska to talk to nine women that have been effected by sexual violence that’s a very, very high number,” Braithwaite says.

Victims tell Braithwaite that they have typically been discouraged from sharing their stories of abuse and assault.

“Everybody has said, when they came forward and talked to somebody about the abuse they were told don’t talk about it. That’s ugly talk. We don’t talk about that,”Braithwaite says. “So not being able to communicate that violence just pretty much allows it to continue. If you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t go away.”

He is still in the early phase of his research, but already one clear theme has emerged in the interviews he has conducted.

“Obviously the alcohol problem and the heroin problem in Dillingham have been unanimously named by everyone,” Braithwaite says.

Braithwaite says that collecting these stories should help better identify some of the root causes of sexual violence here. He hopes that may lead to more effective ways to address the problem. When he finishes his work here, Braithwaite says he wants to repeat the study in other rural parts of the state.

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