One Alaska Update: Keeping Up With Governor Bill Walker
Fellow Alaskan –
While April 30 marks the end of sexual assault awareness month, supporting survivors of sexual violence continues as a priority for our administration.
In Alaska, we have troublingly high rates of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault – across the board. People from regions and communities that experience historical and intergenerational trauma have even higher rates of victimization. Most victims are very young: 14 years old.
A Juneau Empire article this week recounted the story of MacKenzie Howard, a 13-year-old girl who was murdered in Kake five years ago. Friends and relatives guarded her body while they waited for Alaska State Troopers to fly to the village. Dedicating more funding to trooper travel to rural areas is one of the specific items I requested in my budget this year: a proactive Trooper presence in rural communities can help communities like MacKenzie’s.
No one, let alone survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, should have to wait years for justice. Last year, we ordered local law enforcement statewide to send their backlogged rape evidence kits to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. By improving technology and streamlining the work, we’ve reduced the backlog — and the wait-time to get sexual assault evidence DNA tested down from 300 days to 90 days.
90 days is still too long to wait, but progress is encouraging. We hired retired Alaska State Trooper Michael Burkmire to work as a sexual assault cold case investigator last week, thanks to a $1.1 million federal grant we worked to get from the U.S. Department of Justice. Last week’s arrest of the Golden State Killer in California, based on a DNA match, highlights the importance of testing every single kit, to bring closure to survivors and to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
Other elements of our Public Safety Action Plan to address sexual violence include changing regulations to ensure Alaska courts can enforce out-of-state protective orders. We’re working on building a statewide Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault hotline, and a comprehensive modernized statewide 911 system, to ensure that survivors always have somewhere to turn, for advice, or in emergencies.
If you have other ideas, or things you’d like to see our administration pursue, please reach out. Domestic violence and sexual assault are a nationwide issue, but the especially high rates here in Alaska make them personal: we must work hard to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and survivors have the support and care that they need.