Yukon-Kuskokwim region tops state for sexual assault cases

More crimes reported in area than Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The Bethel region had more felony sexual assaults and cases of sexual abuse of a minor than Anchorage last year, according to figures released by prosecutors.

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Law enforcement officers in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region referred 75 sexual assault cases and 41 cases of sexual abuse of a minor to state prosecutors in 2006, new state figures show. The region has about 25,000 residents.

Law enforcement officers in Anchorage referred 49 sexual assault cases and 33 cases of sexual abuse of a minor cases to state prosecutors. Anchorage has 282,000 residents.

The Southwest region is made up of more than 50 Yup'ik villages.

"We have an epidemic of sexual violence in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta," said Michelle DeWitt, head of the region's full-service shelter for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

Assistant Attorney General Teresa Foster, the state's sexual assault coordinator, obtained the numbers from a Department of Law database.

The 2005 comparison also alarmed her, Foster said. The Bethel region had 68 sexual assault cases and 45 sexual-abuse-of-a-minor cases. Anchorage had 43 and 52, respectively.

"The numbers are extraordinarily disturbing," she said.

She does not know how many of the cases were prosecuted, or the severity of each reported assault, she said. Getting that information might involve pulling individual files.

Both the children and adults in the cases have reported that they are victims of an illegal sexual penetration or inappropriate contact, she said. In the Bethel region, assaults often happen to adult victims incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, she said.

Foster suspects the problem is bigger in the Bethel region than in the rest of the state. That's based on the amount of time she's spent in Bethel dealing with cases, she said.

She did not seek the information for other regions, she said.

Anchorage also has high rates of sexual assault. In 2005, Anchorage had two and a half times more forcible rapes than the national average, or 81 for every 100,000 residents, according to FBI crime reports. The national average was 32.

Alaska has consistently ranked in the top five states in that category since 1976.

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