Raping drunk women: social norm and “just a habit” in rural Alaksa

Six assaults in small community include two rapes
Bristol Bay Times (ALASKA)

July 03, 2008

Police in Dillingham investigated six incidents in June determined to be sexual assaults. Of these, two involved multiple assailants.

“We’re such a small community, and it’s very unusual,” said Ginger Baim, director of Safe and Fear-Free Environment, or SAFE, a shelter and advocacy group for survivors of violence.

“We’ve had six sexual assaults in three weeks, of adult women that were reported to police, and we’ve had another equal number that were not reported to police.”

Baim said that although she’s noticed spikes in sexual assault just before and after the fishing season, she can’t remember seeing one of this magnitude or involving incidents with multiple attackers.

Dillingham Police Chief Richard Thompson said that in the first recent sexual assault report to police involving multiple assailants, reported June 17, the victim received a head wound.

The victim reported three suspects were involved, with one primary assailant, he said.

In the second instance, reported June 19, the victim reported four males had raped her and had used condoms.

Police say they’ve identified four suspects and identified two as having had sex with the victim. The police dispatch documentation on that case indicates two males were taken to a hospital for an examination to collect DNA evidence.

The police document also states the victim reported the suspects took pictures of the sexual assault.

Thompson said police have been working diligently on the sexual assault investigations.

Meanwhile, rumors have been spreading through Dillingham about the assaults.

Thompson said this has made gathering legitimate information through police interviews of potential witnesses more difficult.

“Person ‘x’ will say to person ‘y,’ ‘Did you hear what happened to so-and-so, I was driving to go see my aunt and I heard about this,’” Thompson said. “Well person ‘y’ will tell person ‘z.’ ‘Did you hear what happened to so-and-so, person ‘x’ was driving by and saw it happen. We have to follow up those rumors. We don’t have a choice; they might have valid information.”

Baim said the incidents are known about town and have people concerned for their safety. Both Baim and Thompson advised people to exercise awareness of their own safety when in public and to use a buddy system to stay safer.

Baim said many Dillingham residents have been concerned about the reported sexual assaults involving multiple attackers because of the level of violence and force involved. She said that’s unusual for this small town. She said people are also concerned because the suspects are rumored to be males from outside the town.

Thompson confirmed one victim in these two cases is local to Dillingham, and one is local to the region; and that in both cases, the suspects were not known to the victim or not local.

He also said there’s no reason at this time in investigation to believe that the two incidents are linked or the result of a single set of attackers.

Although the reported sexual assaults involving multiple assailants has created the most stir in town, Thompson and Baim both point out that the majority of sexual assaults in Dillingham involve acquaintance rape — where the victim knows the assailant. Alcohol is almost always a factor, they said.

Even without the two incidents involving multiple attackers, June still saw a higher number of sexual assaults, Baim said. Thompson noted other spikes in sexual assaults that have occurred in Dillingham over the last seven-year period, and they’re not necessarily correlated with periods just prior to or after the fishing season.

“These things tend to come along in clusters,” Thompson said. “I don’t know why.”

Baim and Thompson said sexual assaults reflect a lack of respect for others and self on the part of the assailant.

“In rural Alaska and in Bristol Bay, we have a social norm that says when a woman gets drunk and passes out a party, it’s OK to have sex on her,” Baim said. “It’s not planned; it’s just a habit. That in no way diminishes the terrible harm it does. And it’s not a blaming thing, it’s just a habit — I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Thompson said that while most sexual assaults reported to police involve alcohol, nothing excuses the criminal act.

“Our cases move forward to prosecution without regard for who is how intoxicated,” Thompson said. “As far as I’m concerned you can get as (drunk) as you like, and no one has the right to predate on you.

“Every citizen has the right, unless restrained by the court, to be intoxicated to whatever extent they choose,” he added.

However, he strongly cautioned people to take measures that reduce their vulnerability to predation from sexual assault.

“We all have an obligation to maintain enough awareness regarding our own safety, that we can at least ask for help,” he said. “It makes sense to provide for our own safety by having a buddy plan. If you’re going to go out drinking, go with a friend.

Don’t just wander off by yourself.”
Bristol Bay Times