The number of reported sex crimes in Alaska increased 19.5% in 2018 compared with 2017, according to a new report from state law enforcement.
That doesn’t necessarily mean more sexual offenses took place and instead could point toward more people around the state reporting the incidents to law enforcement, said Megan Peters, communications director for the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
“It doesn’t truly mean that, ‘Yes there’s an increase in crime.’ It means that we know for sure that there is an increase in reporting,” Peters said.
Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the U.S., nearly four times the national average.
Nearly 44% of all victims of reported sex offenses in 2018 in the state were Alaska Native females, the report says.
The true number of sex crimes that occur in Alaska over any given time period is unknown. The statistics released Wednesday by the Department of Public Safety are based on the number of crimes that people report to state troopers, local police and other law enforcement agencies around the state in a given year. Many survivors of rape and child sexual abuse never reveal the crimes to police or even family members.
“For us, I know this seems really backwards, but an increase in the reporting of incidents is actually a good thing because it allows us to get a better picture of the totality of what we’re dealing with,” Peters said.
Peters said some Alaskans might be more inclined to report the offenses due to shifts in law enforcement training, education and support services offered to victims. The increase also coincides with the rise of the #MeToo movement and a growing cultural emphasis on holding sexual predators accountable.
Additionally, some of the incidents that get reported in a given year could have happened in prior years, Peters said.
In addition to a 19.5% increase in reported sex offense incidents in 2018, the number of total reported victims increased 23.5% compared with 2017. More than half of all reported sex crime victims in Alaska — some 55% — were juveniles, the Department of Public Safety reported.
Multiple surveys and reports attempt to quantify sex offenses statewide, but they’re hard to compare, Peters said.
The Alaska Victimization Survey gets information through phone calls to women over the age of 18, while the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and the Felony Level Sex Offenses report use information reported to law enforcement around the state.
Among the findings of the Felony Level Sex Offense Report released Wednesday:
• Western Alaska reported the highest rate of sex offenses based on population, while Southeast Alaska reported the lowest.
• The Anchorage area had the highest number of incidents reported.
• Over 55% of all reported victims were juveniles.
• 88% of victims were female.
• Victims under the age of 11 most often reported being assaulted by a parent.
• Alaska Native females were reported to have the highest victimization rate of any gender or racial group, making up 43.7% of all reported victims.
• The median age of female victims was 17, while the most common age was 15.
• The median age of male victims was 12, while the most common age was 4.
• More than 93% of the time, the victim somehow knew the offender. With victims under 11 years old, less than 2% of the offenses involved a stranger.
• Of the incidents in which the location of the assault was provided, 75% occurred at a residence or home.
• Of the incidents in which weapons data was provided, 91% did not involve a weapon.
The Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica are investigating sexual violence across the state. Alaskans who want to share their experiences or comment on the epidemic are encouraged to email the reporting team at firstname.lastname@example.org.