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We can't deal with Alaska's violence until we recognize it

  • Author: Elise Patkotak
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published February 24, 2015

I was more than a little surprised at the reaction to last week's column citing the survey showing Alaska to be the most violent state in the union. The most amazing reaction came from the person who claimed it was a liberal survey meant to pave the way for taking our guns. Considering guns were not even mentioned in the piece, I'm not sure where that came from. Also, the survey was done by the FBI, not a group known for being a bastion of liberal thought.

Then there were the people who claimed that no survey probably ever existed since I didn't quote extensively from it. They apparently are unable to find the referenced survey, so let me do it for them. According to the statistics published by the FBI, Alaska has a rate of 602.6 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 people. Some readers claimed we're No. 1 only because we have such a small population. They apparently feel that the number looms much larger than it would in a bigger population. But given it was based on a "per 100,000" basis, the statistic holds up. Chicago may have more murders but with their higher population, it works out to a lower number per 100,000. And if you can't understand that math or those statistics, you should go back to your high school and demand a refund on your diploma.

Perhaps most disturbing were the people who simply denied that Alaska was a violent place because they felt safe here. I'm sure they do. So do I for the most part. And this is probably why another survey found us No. 1 in residents feeling fulfilled and good about themselves. One does not preclude the other. But we need to remember that these statistics on violence were not conjured out of thin air. They are based on crime statistics and are real. These crimes are happening to other Alaskans if not to you. And that should concern us because diminishing the quality of life for even one Alaskan diminishes it for us all. We can either do something about it before it reaches our homes or suffer the consequences.

Another survey (ADN, Friday) recently released and conducted in-state shows that at least 51 percent of women in the Nome, Bristol Bay, Anchorage, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Juneau census areas have suffered physical or sexual abuse, or both, at the hands of their intimate partners. This statistic simply backs up other surveys that consistently put Alaska at the top of the charts for domestic violence and sexual abuse.

We seem to have grown so numb to the problem that the statistics don't even faze us anymore. But think about this for a minute.

In 2010, a survey was released that showed that 59 out of every 100 women in Alaska have experienced some level of violence from their intimate partners. All those people who object to Alaska's violent reputation should probably get their heads out of the sand and look around because they know a woman who has experienced physical and/or sexual violence.

So what's the answer to Alaska's violence problem? It's been studied to death. Every survey conducted shows us leading in all the worse statistics. Even more disheartening, we have maintained our position at the top or near the top of these statistics for decades. What has to change to make our state safer for everyone, including the most vulnerable?

Given the responses to last week's column, I'd say the first step might be convincing people these statistics are real and happening in a home very near to where they live. Because the statistical violence making us No. 1 is less about drug deals gone bad and drunken driving that leads to massive injuries and death, and more about a husband punching his wife in the privacy of their own home. It has more to do with one partner forcing himself on another partner and creating both pain, violence and fear around the very act that should bind them most intimately.

Alaska is a great state. This is why we should be so angry that these crimes are repeated over and over and over again in every neighborhood at every income level. We need to aspire to be as great as the state in which we live. And that means doing something about the violence that is so ubiquitous here. Step one is acknowledging it.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

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