Experts say more sexual violence awareness needed

April brings to forefront pressing community issues

Posted: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sexual assault is a topic that should not be ignored, according to experts working in the field. And with April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it's a good time to educate the public on those issues, they say.

"Unless we are talking openly about it and talking about the realities of what rape is and what sexual abuse of minors is, people don't want to believe that it's happening - 'not in my community,'" said Keeley Olson, the program director for Standing Together Against Rape, based in Anchorage. "We always would like to think that it's happening elsewhere."

The Alaska State Troopers released a report this month that said in the first two weeks of April, 21 law enforcement agencies received a total of 59 reports of sexual assault in Alaska. The numbers did not include statistics for Juneau, however.

According to police records there have been three sex offense arrests in Juneau in 2009. But the arrest numbers don't paint a complete picture of the issue in Juneau because some charges are filed through the district attorney's office and are not counted as arrests, Sgt. Dave Campbell said.

Many sexual assault and abuse cases fail to get reported in the first place, Olson said. Alaska's sexual assault incidents is 2.5 times higher than the national average, and violence against children is six times higher, according to the Department of Public Safety.

"Alaska is number one by an extremely large margin," Olson said. "Our incidents of rape and sexual assault are so high."

Since the beginning of 2000 until earlier this month, there have been 95 sexual offense arrests made by JPD, with 45 of those cases involving minors. However, more cases were filed with the district attorney's office during that time. Reliable data for Juneau was not immediately available.

Mandy O'Neal Cole, direct services manager for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies in Juneau, said it is difficult for people working in the field to know actually how many victims are in any given community.

"I think I can say very definitively that even one sexual assault is too many, so obviously we have way too many in our town," she said. "We just work really hard to both get people some education on what sexual assault is, but also to protect those people that are victimized."

People should understand that there are many victims of sexual assault in Alaska, Olson said.

"It's an issue that too often we would like to shove under the rug and ignore," she said. "Sexual violence is a type of crime that thrives in silence."

Olson said April is a month to "raise the veil a little bit" and look at the topic in the way the people working in the field see it on a daily basis. The problem impacts everybody in the state, she said.

"We all have a responsibility to do something about it and make sure people in our community are safe," Olson said.

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