Alaska has the nation’s highest rates of sexual assault, and the state wants to improve how it responds to people who report these crimes to the Alaska State Troopers. A researcher leading the project is asking victim-survivors in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta for help.
Ingrid Diane Johnson is an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center. She knows that she's asking people to do a hard thing: talk with her about their experience reporting sexual assault to state troopers.
“I’m asking them to talk to a stranger about something very traumatic and personal," Johnson said. "I can promise confidentiality, so I can promise that I’m the only person who would know their name and that they did participate.”
Participants get a $45 gift card, but that’s not why they’ve been sharing their stories.
“They’re talking with me to help change the system and make it better,” Johnson said.
Every interview begins the same way, by asking about the assault. Answering is optional. From there, Johnson asks about the experience of reporting the assault and about how the case was handled.
"And then the second part," Johnson explained, "we start to talk about what justice means for them in these types of cases, and whether they think justice was done in their case, and what kinds of things people could have done differently to make them feel like justice was done; what kind of recommendations they have for making improvements.”
Adults who reported a sexual assault to troopers between 2006 and 2016 are asked to take part. Western Alaska has the highest rates of sexual assault in the state, and Johnson says that the region’s situation needs to be a part of this study.
“I would just really love to hear more voices from the Yukon-Kuskokwim, because there are things I’m not going to hear if I don’t hear from people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim,” she said.
If you’d like to participate, you can call Johnson at 907-786-1126 or email email@example.com. Contacting her does not mean you have to do the interview.
“People are free to reach out to me just to ask questions or just to feel me out, talk to me a little bit and see if they even feel comfortable talking with me," Johnson offered. "I’m happy to have a lot of initial conversations before someone even commits to doing an interview.”
Johnson is also interviewing the professionals who handle sexual assault cases once they’re reported, including people working in law enforcement, criminal justice, health care, and advocacy. The Alaska Department of Public Safety hired Johnson for the project using federal funds.