Sexual assault victims in rural Alaska Native villages face tremendous challenges in accessing emergency healthcare, safety, and justice. Geographic isolation, lack of transportation, limited access to healthcare, and a shortage of local forensic medical examiners (“SANEs” or SAFEs”) to provide the “rape kit exams” are common.
Sexual assault forensic examinations and emergency sexual assault healthcare are provided primarily in the larger cities of Alaska. Victims from rural areas must sometimes wait days for the next available flight or transportation to obtain help. Those electing to make this journey are often required to refrain from changing clothes or showering for days so that potential forensic evidence is not damaged or lost.
Requiring victims to travel far from their homes to receive emergency sexual assault healthcare and examinations has many consequences. It isolates victims and removes them from their natural support systems of family, friends, and faith communities. Time is lost from work and from providing for their families. Childcare and the care of other dependents must be arranged. They must travel long distances and receive care in an unfamiliar environment.
Many victims will choose not to make this difficult journey. This means that no forensic evidence will be collected and, consequently, reduces the chances of the perpetrator ever being held accountable for the crime. Foregoing medical treatment after a sexual assault can also result in adverse health consequences such as untreated sexually transmitted diseases, infections from wounds, and increased risk of death if strangulation occurred during the assault.
The Sexual Assault Forensic Exams, Support, Training, and Resources (SAFESTAR) program offers rural Alaska communities another option that allows victims to receive sexual assault services in their home community. Specially selected and qualified Native women who reside in each community are trained by experts in various fields to:
The SAFESTAR program is available for free to Alaska Native communities. SAFESTAR staff work with each community to customize the program to meet the specific cultural, geographic, and other needs of the area. More information about the program is available at www.safestar.net or by contacting program staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-717-6140.
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*NICCSA is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy (www.swclap.org) This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.