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:
- • Deliver emergency first aid to sexual assault survivors
- • Provide referrals for follow-up care (medical or other)
- • Educate communities on the harm caused by sexual violence, as well as leading the way to healthy and respectful ways of living
- • Collect sexual assault forensic evidence (“rape kits”) to promote accountability for the perpetrators
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.