A year ago, the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica launched an extended reporting project investigating Alaska’s extremely high rates of sexual violence and why the problem doesn’t get better.
We took a deep look at criminal justice across the state, and documented, for the first time, how one in three Alaska communities had no local law enforcement of any kind. We reported how in some communities, convicted criminals — including sex offenders — have been hired as police officers.
We reported how the Village Public Safety Officer program, created 40 years ago to protect the most hard-to-reach communities, is on the brink of collapse. We found big gaps in oversight that left people in many Alaska communities, including children, deeply vulnerable.
You can read all the coverage so far at adn.com/lawless.
Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr declared the lack of law enforcement in Alaska villages to be a federal emergency. Federal, state, local and tribal entities have begun taking steps to address the problems.
It’s hardly just a rural Alaska problem. While our reporting has largely focused on systemic issues in rural Alaska, rates of sexual violence are high in urban areas as well. Last week, we announced that the Daily News and ProPublica will continue the project for a second year as part of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. While the first year focused heavily on policing in rural areas, we anticipate the second year to shift to a deeper look at failure points in the system more broadly.
But we don’t just want to look at the problems. We’re committed to laying out possible solutions. We’ve asked political and community leaders, Alaskans working in law enforcement and people with experience in the field for their ideas. And today we’re publishing a story by reporter Kyle Hopkins that outlines what some experts say are concrete steps that could be taken to better ensure that Alaskans are protected and have access to justice, whether they live in the state’s biggest cities or far-flung villages.
We also invited a cross section of leaders from around the state to share their ideas directly. Today, we’re publishing the first group of them. They include:
• Nikole Nelson, executive director of Alaska Legal Services and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, writing about the need to expand pro-bono legal services, especially for victims and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
• U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on partnerships between the state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.
• Kiana city manager Ely Cyrus on why addressing societal issues, such as education, employment and economic status, are key to solving the law enforcement crisis.
• Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, on why a decentralized public safety and criminal justice system with maximum local control is the right approach.
• Anna Sattler, a business owner and sexual assault survivor, on the need for personal responsibility within communities.
Over the next few days, we’ll be publishing more. We’re grateful for the time and thought they put into it.
This is just the start. It’s a conversation and we want to hear from you. We’d love to publish your letter or longer piece with specific solutions. We want your feedback on what we’ve done so far and where you think we should go next. Hundreds of survivors of sexual violence in Alaska have answered our call-outs and we’ll be incorporating their input, concerns and insights into future coverage. The problems have persisted too long. We think this project can make things better, and we thank you for reading, for your ideas and sharing your stories.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.