'I can remember watching my friend cry while she was being violated' - a sexual assault survivor calls for action at AFN

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - She was five or six, maybe seven when she was first sexually assaulted. Debbie Atuk lived in Nome. It was at the hands of a babysitter, she says, who came over to watch her and her brothers.

"I was so angry, I was filled with rage I was so angry," Atuk said.

A few years later, this time living in Anchorage, it happened again. Atuk says she was walking down the street in Mountain View with a friend to buy toys for a hamster when a teenager stopped them. Atuk says her friend was frozen with fear.

"I didn't know what was going to happen next and I didn't want to leave my friend," Atuk said.

She says the man led them to a janitor's closet nearby where he then raped both of them.

"I can remember certain things so vividly," Atuk said. "Like I can remember watching my friend cry while she was being violated and I can remember the things he told us, like he would kill our families if we told anyone. When he let us go he told us to count to 100 before we left."

Standing Together Against Rape says 73 percent of sexual assaults in Alaska were committed by someone the child knows, and that sexual assaults against children in the state are almost six times the national average.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Western Alaska reported the highest rate of felony level sex offense incidents; 106 percent higher than the statewide rate.

Additionally, Alaska Native women and girls were reported to have the highest victimization rate of any gender or racial group, comprising 42 percent of all reported victims.

Atuk says after the rape in Anchorage she began to drink heavily. Instead of being a vibrant, smart student in school she began to lag behind and keep to herself. She says after graduation, when her friends went off to college, she got a job at the Anchorage Daily News. It was there, she says, that people encouraged her to go to school.

"People there encouraged me to apply to schools, to not stay where I was," Atuk said.

She went to the University of Alaska Anchorage and got a 4.0. She eventually transferred to Dartmouth where she was a star student who became heavily involved in campus life.

"Even though I was alone with the memories, because I didn't ever talk about them with anyone until I was well into my early 20s and working with a therapist, I wasn't alone. I was with my family. I luckily had a very strong home," Atuk said.

Atuk says it is the silence by both the families and the victims that allow rapists to continue to torture others.

She says during the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention she'll present a resolution calling for more support of sexual assault survivors, both children and adults.

Today, after therapy and talking with her parents about the abuse, Atuk says she is happy. She is the director at Bering Straits Native Corporation, which also works to promote other Native American communities.

"I realize I'm not only the bad things that happen to me; that I had this wellspring of good things and I think that's what saved me," Atuk said.

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