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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Of Salmon, Spirits, Silence, and Steam: A Study of Sexual Violence in Rural Alaska

  • Author(s): Braithwaite, Jeremy
  • Advisor(s): Currie, Elliott P
  • et al.

The state of Alaska has the highest reported forcible rape rate in the United States, currently exceeding the national average three-fold. In 2012, about 80 crimes of rape were reported per 100,000 residents. Alaska Native women, who represent about 15 percent of the state’s population, are disproportionately represented in the state rape rate, accounting for nearly two-thirds of reported cases each year. Despite these staggering statistics, empirical work examining the underpinnings of sexual violence among Alaska Native women remains quite scarce.

Though there is a burgeoning literature on violence against indigenous women living in Native communities or reservations, the majority of this literature is theoretical, relies on generic propositions, and undervalues the distinct differences among and within indigenous groups. In response to these lacunae, this dissertation examines violence, particularly sexual violence, against Alaska Native women in Bristol Bay, a rural region in the western part of the state. I employ a quasi-ethnographic study, involving a series of site visits, community observations, key informant interviews, and life histories with Alaska Native survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Findings suggest that understanding violence against women in this region must account for a complex backdrop of historical, cultural, political, and economic forces that have exerted profound shifts in the lives and livelihoods of men, women, families, and villages. Transformations in the political and economic structures of this region have potentiated myriad cascading effects on Native family structure, work opportunities, interpersonal relationships, and cultural investment. These issues are germane to understanding to how and why women experience, respond to, and heal from traumatic experiences. Implications for recovery, intervention, and prevention at multiple levels are discussed, in addition to unique challenges posed to the discipline of criminology.

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