Alaska's Rape Problem is an Alaska Men's Problem, Too.
By Brionne Elkins
Alaska Dispatch News
Brionne Elkins is a first-year doctoral student in the UAA-UAF Joint Ph.D. Program in Clinical-Community Psychology and a graduate of Barrow High School. His research interests are in neuropsychology, dementia and traumatic brain injuries.
OPINION: Alaska's men need to step up and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with women to break the tight grip that rape and sexual assault have on our communities.
Alaska is in the midst of a crisis. In fact, it has been for at least five decades now.
Alaska has reported rape and sexual assault statistics that have been higher than the national average. While these statistics have wavered in some years, our rate of reported sexual assault has continued to grow to our current level of nearly three times the national average. I've been using the term "reported" before all of those statistics, to suggest that there are actually more cases of rape and sexual assault than are reported to law enforcement officials. In fact, organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network estimate that at least 60 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported. So alongside the newfound accuracy in our reports as a product of the FBI's redefinition of the term rape , we could also stand to see our already super high statewide average even double.
Unfortunately, there are additional, unseen factors that make this problem even worse. Alaska's rape problem isn't just about the high rates, or even the number of incidents that go unreported. Apparently, even when attacks are reported, we can't even adequately protect the victims from their predators, or provide justice for the victims. For instance, the Alaska Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Study  reported data indicating that only 29 percent of reported rapes result in an arrest. While that number is atrocious in itself, additional data indicate that only 69 percent of these cases continue on to prosecution of the arrested individual. Even more disappointing is the fact that the same publication indicates only 78 percent of these prosecutions result in a conviction. Even in Alaska, the state that prides itself on firearm safety and training, many vulnerable individuals are not safe. Not enough of these instances are reported and not enough of the rapists or attackers are arrested, persecuted or convicted.
Furthermore, another less acknowledged, ignored, minimized or unseen -- perhaps even intentionally or unintentionally denied -- factor that contributes to Alaska’s rape and sexual assault problem is likely to be the most important factor of all: the men.
When it comes to rape and sexual assault, many women in Alaska (and the world) are told that the best way to fend off rape or sexual assault is to practice general awareness of one's own surroundings, don’t wear clothes or act in any way that may provoke an attack, gain a greater understanding of martial arts or other forms of physical defense, and to carry a gun. In Alaska, I’ve even heard people frequently advise women to "wear a second pair of pants to make it harder for your attacker."
Not only does that type of reasoning and “advice” place the blame and responsibility for attacks primarily on victims, but the effectiveness of such “solutions” cannot be guaranteed across all instances of attacks. Even if a vulnerable individual is given top-tier training, a privilege that is clearly not available to all, the hopes of better protecting oneself may still remain solely with that individual. That is not a long-term solution, nor is it a solution that can be used throughout our population. It does nothing to make our state or neighborhoods any safer.
We need to realize that the only common denominator among all rapes and sexual assaults is that there is an attacker. The common factor is not what the victim was wearing, not whether the victim was drinking, not whether the victim was walking alone in a dangerous neighborhood, not whether the victim “has a past,” and not even whether the victim has self-defense training (even our well-trained soldiers are victimized too). So it seems like a more efficient, more effective and more sustainable form of intervention should be focused on that one common factor among all rapes and sexual assaults: the attackers. The attackers -- or the potential attackers -- are the ones that need to change.
Alaska needs to change. This includes the necessity of holding our law enforcement officials and judicial system accountable, but it also extends to every single resident of this state. Social change needs to occur regarding how we think about rape and sexual assault, and about the real factors behind the problem.
While educational posters with slogans like, "No Means No," and, "Real Men Don't Rape," are a good start, we need to also take action. Specifically setting out to teach young men not to rape acknowledges where the source of the problem lies. As men, we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with women -- instead of being barriers -- and put a stop to these attacks. Men need to step up -- not to “rescue” or “save” or “protect” women -- but to work collaboratively with them in addressing rape and sexual assault.
Women aren’t the problem. Victims aren’t the problem. As men, we need to look at ourselves and our contribution.