Village Crime Victims Need Intervention, Senators Told

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee today heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities. Gerad Godfrey, chairman of Alaska’s Violent Crime Compensation Board, cited a few of the state’s grim statistics.

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“In Bethel (and) the surrounding villages, there’s, on average, one rape or child sexual abuse case reported every other day,” he said.

Godfrey says a victim in a village might be flown to a hospital, sometimes as far as Anchorage, for evidence collection, with no advocate. Worse, Godfrey says, often there’s no investigation and family members tell young victims to keep quiet.

“If they don’t feel that what happened to them is serious, and it was very bad, and somebody cares, our opportunity to restore them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, probably passes,” he said. “But beyond that, they are also more likely to perpetuate that as they grow older.”

Godfrey spent part of his childhood in Bethel, when his father, Glenn Godfrey, was assigned to the State Trooper post there. He says he recalls 3rd and 4th grade friends casually discussing abuse and which kids had been victimized.

Godfrey’s testimony, and the stories told from other states, stunned Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat.

“Who could sit in this room and not be horrified?” she asked. “One of almost every three children between the ages of 11 and 13 tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, on Fort Peck. In what world aren’t we horrified? Your testimony, Mr. Godfrey — I’m horrified. I’m horrified by all of this.”

Heitkamp and Sen. Lisa Murkowski pushed a bill through the Senate last week to establish a national commission on Native children. It’s awaiting action in the House.

Godfrey says the single biggest help would be money for rural sexual assault response teams. As he sees it, they’d fly to a community right after a report, to both help the victim and gather evidence. He also advocates for abuse-prevention education in schools, an idea the Alaska Legislature is wrestling with.

Murkowski says leaving that decision to each school district isn’t a good solution.

“In some of our small communities, where our school boards are making these decisions, it may be that some of our school board members are part of our problem, and they don’t want to see these things – prevention education – included in the schools,” Murkowski said.

She says the rate of violence in Indian Country and in Native villages  is not a new problem, and she’s seen hearings like this one every few years.

“We just say these statistics over and over and over again,” Murkowski said, lamenting the lack of services to victims, and the lack of prosecutions.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz