Alaska has the highest rate of forcible rape in the United States according to the 2015 FBI statistics. Researcher and author Jeremy Braithwaite conducted research on sexual assault in Bristol Bay last year for his dissertation. He returned last week to present that research in Dillingham.
Jeremy Braithwaite interviewed 18 survivors of sexual assault in 7 different Bristol Bay communities for his doctoral thesis in Criminology from the University of California Irvine. He found that, especially in native communities, historical context is important for understanding sexual violence that occurs today.
"When I came here and began talking with women and hearing their stories," says Braithwaite, "I realized that in many cases it seemed that the issues that they were experiencing could be traced back to issues that have happened at the structural level in the community, dating back to 30 years ago, 40 years ago, and in some cases hundreds of years ago."
Braithwaite noted that Limited Entry Fishing has led to an outmigration of locally owned permits. Since the 1970s, he says, local and native participation in fishing in Bristol Bay has dramatically decreased.
"I found that when women talked about perhaps their families selling off permits, it was common for them to talk about violence that they encountered shortly thereafter in their families," Braithwaite says. "It was also common to hear issues of addiction that developed when a family member would sell a permit. The cash would come in. The cash would go out relatively quickly. And women would describe family members lives spiraling out of control into a cycle of addiction, treatment, recovery and eventual relapse.”
Lisa Haggblom is the Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator at SAFE. She assisted Braithwaite with his project. That historical perspective, she says, is helpful.
"For me as an advocate," she says, "I actually have more to offer people when I am speaking with them about looking at it kind of more in a broader social scale, which hopefully will be helpful."
Braithwaite plans to continue his research in other parts of rural Alaska. He hopes that his findings will assist survivors and advocates with healing and prevention.
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