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We can turn the tide of sexual assault in Alaska

  • Author: Jahna Lindemuth
  • Updated: October 15, 2018
  • Published October 15, 2018

Alaska is the least safe place for women in the nation. As a lifelong Alaskan, it pains me to know that the state I love has the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. This isn't new information, and it is unacceptable. We must continue to demand better.

October is Domestic Violence Action Month, and we are reminded that we need to be vigilant in seeking better for survivors and trying to prevent future victims. This has been a personal focus for me in my time as attorney general, and I know the governor shares this focus.

On this front, I have been working with our law enforcement partners to target specific resources to prosecute domestic and sexual violence cases. We will soon have two investigators in the department solely devoted to sex crimes, along with two Anchorage Police Department officers and a municipal prosecutor, who will focus on both domestic violence and vehicle theft across Anchorage.

In addition, the Criminal Division has been reviewing Alaska's sex offense laws for the past several months to identify gaps, loopholes and areas of improvement. With the highest rates of sexual violence in the nation, we should also have the toughest and most comprehensive sex offense statutes.

As you probably know, a loophole was highlighted recently with the sentencing of Justin Schneider. Mr. Schneider strangled his victim and then masturbated on her. By all accounts, what Mr. Schneider did to his victim should be considered a sex offense. His actions were outrageous and disturbing. It took courage for her to even come forward to report. How devastating it must be for her to know that her assailant — the man who she was sure was trying to end her life — is already back on the streets because of a legal loophole.

This outcome shows us that the law is broken. Under current law, Mr. Schneider could not be treated as a sex offender with a higher sentencing range of two to 12 years for a first offense.

This needs to be fixed, which is why the governor is proposing legislation to make unwanted contact with semen a sex crime. We also plan to introduce legislation next session focused on perpetrators who sexually abuse 13- to 15-year-olds; making indecent viewing (such as putting a camera in the women's locker room) a registerable sex offense; making solicitation of a minor for sex a felony in all circumstances; and making sure our state is not a safe haven for sex offenders by forcing them to register in Alaska if they have to register in another state.

These are just the actions that I can take directly as attorney general. I know there are numerous efforts across the state, including the good work being done by the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and countless volunteers, such as attorney Michael Gershel. I was honored to present Mr. Gershel with this year's Pro Bono Service Award for donating his time and resources to help survivors for more than 20 years.

Together, we can turn the tide. Survivors of these heinous crimes should feel confident that when they come forward, they will be listened to, and crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And if that's not enough, we will change the law. Whatever it takes to make a safer Alaska.

If you are a survivor, I want to thank you for your bravery, and I urge you to report any crime to the police and seek out resources. You can find more information at the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault website.

Jahna Lindemuth serves as attorney general for Alaska.

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