Alaska: Restraining Orders May Aid Villages

By KYLE HOPKINS

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Despite towering rates of sexual abuse and domestic violence, two-thirds of Alaska villages have no local police or troopers, a university expert said Thursday.

But there’s something most of Alaska’s more than 200 tribes don’t realize, said assistant professor Kevin M. Illingworth, head of the tribal management program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Federal law allows tribal courts and councils to slap restraining orders on people who commit domestic violence, demanding they stay away from victims — or in extreme cases banishing them from the village.

Illingworth spoke at an annual Bureau of Indian Affairs conference in Anchorage, where tribal council and court members joined other village service providers gathered from across the state. The meeting came as Gov. Sean Parnell announced a 10-year plan to battle rape and domestic violence in Alaska.

Alaska tribes issue up to two-dozen restraining orders a year, Illingworth said. It’s a modest number, he said, though Yukon-Kuskokwim villages, in particular, are increasingly using the tool.

“Tribes are really taking on a lot of these offenses because the troopers and law enforcement aren’t there,” he said.

That said, he added, “If you’re issuing protective orders and you don’t have law enforcement, practically speaking, what can you do?”

In an effort to boost rural enforcement, Parnell repeated his call Thursday for the state to hire 15 more Village Public Safety Officers every year for the next 10 years. A sexual assault is 3.5 times more likely to be accepted for prosecution when there is a VPSO or police officer in a community, said Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters.

While the governor’s proposal calls for tougher punishment for offenders, tribal court judges at the Bureau of Indian Affairs conference are taking a different approach.

In the dry Kuskokwim Bay village of Kwigillingok, the tribal court cracks down on small offenses — underage snowmachine driving, vandalism — in hopes of warding off larger problems.

The tribal court doesn’t handle sexual abuse cases or felony assaults. But in a domestic violence case, elders might counsel first-time offenders according to village customs. No tape recorders or paperwork.

“We look for the good in that person,” said tribal court judge Elsie Jimmie.

If the person re-offends, the court might send the case to the state, said court administrator Adolph Lewis.

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