Two men stand accused of sexually abusing a young girl in the Southwest village of Chuathbaluk, 11 miles up the Kuskokwim River from Aniak.
The elder of the two defendants, Peter Nick Jr., 43, has been charged with first- and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor. The state is charging him with sexually abusing a teenage girl on a single night in July of 2013.
Lionel Pitka, 26, has been charged with second-degree sexual abuse of a minor. He is accused of abusing the girl about a month earlier than Nick.
Nick has been on the state's sex offender registry for nearly two decades. In 1994, when Nick was 23, he was charged with multiple counts of sex assault. Online court records indicate he pleaded guilty to a single third-degree sexual assault charge. A handful of similar charges were dropped as part of the plea deal, include two counts of sexual abuse of a minor.
Then in July 2000, he was charged with a domestic violence-related first-degree sexual assault charge, but he was acquitted at trial, according to online court records. Nearly nine years later, Nick was charged with failing to register as a sex offender; the state dropped the charge.
Pitka lacks a criminal record, but three years ago a woman successfully petitioned to obtain a protective order against him.
Now, both men are accused of abusing a girl barely in her teens. The charging documents offer few details about their alleged crimes. Bethel District Attorney June Stein said both defendants were charged by grand jury, so there's no legal document outlining the facts of the two cases. Those details will likely emerge during upcoming court hearings.
It's unknown just how many children in Alaska are being harmed by sexual predators. Many children who suffer sexual abuse may never tell anyone about it. But it can be tracked, to some degree, when it's reported and investigated.
The Office of Children's Services, which only investigates cases in which the assailant is a direct caregiver such as a parent or other guardian, substantiated 139 cases of sexual abuse against children in 2013.
That same year, the Anchorage Police Department, which investigates any report of harm against a child regardless of who the alleged abuser is, investigated 271 reports about children being sexually abused. Sixty-one of those led to arrests.
For reasons not entirely clear, investigators at OCS and APD are seeing more cases than in years past. This does not necessarily mean that more children are being abused now than in 2012, 2011 or years earlier. It could also mean that more children are coming forward, and that more instances are being detected than were before.