More incidents or reporting? Looking into Alaska's high rates of rape

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) According to the FBI’s 2018 Crime in the United States Report, the rate of rape in Alaska per 100,000 people is 161.6, the highest rate in the country.

That’s over twice as much as the second-highest state, and almost four times the national rate.

“It’s discouraging,” says Keeley Olson, executive director of Standing Together Against Rape. “I’ve been working in this field for a number of years. I’ve been at STAR for 12 years, and we’re trying to bring those numbers down, but we can’t always control when someone is going to do harm to someone."

Olson says there are a number of factors that could be leading to the rise.

“It could be that there’s more harm being done…” she says. “The second option is that, while rates of harm haven't necessarily increased, more people are feeling comfortable coming forward and reporting."

L. Diane Casto, executive director of Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault believes it’s a combination of the two.

“Our hope is that a considerable percentage of the increase is increased reporting,” Casto says. “But I’m also not naive enough to believe it’s all that.”

Casto is hopeful about next year’s numbers, citing several legislative actions over the last year that expanded the definition of sexual assault and cut down on wait times for investigations.

“I think that those individuals who have been hesitant to come forward in the past may be more willing, now, to come forward because they see that Alaska is taking this more seriously.” Casto says.

While that may actually increase numbers in the data, Olson says more people reporting is still a good thing.

“We shouldn’t be discouraged of more people coming forward and reporting and getting help,” she says. “That should actually be something that we’re proud of.”

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