Alaska generally, and Anchorage specifically, have been plagued by a high incidence of forcible rapes and sexual assaults. For the first time, solid data on victim and suspect characteristics, time and location of assaults and other details have been assembled and studied. These data contradict some of the more common assumptions regarding Anchorage’s rape problem.
The data are important to designing effective rape prevention efforts. The Anchorage Police Department has recently secured new funding sources directed at reducing the occurrence of forcible rapes and sexual assaults: a $2 million federal grant and a $500,000 municipal grant. The question now is how to best allocate these resources. As discussed in the criminological literature, problem-oriented policing offers a promising approach.
Problem-oriented policing is a strategy in which police (1) define the problems to be solved, (2) diagnose these problems to identify their causes, (3) develop and implement interventions that address these causes, and (4) assess the efficacy of their interventions.
As defined in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, forcible rape is “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Attempted forcible rapes are also included in the UCR’s measure. Figure 1 displays the rates of forcible rape reported to police from 1982 to 2002 for the United States, Alaska, and Anchorage. In 2002, the state of Alaska had the highest rate of reported forcible rape among the 50 states (79.4 per 100,000) and Anchorage had the second highest rate of reported forcible rape among metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. (95.0 per 100,000). In 2002, the rates of reported forcible rape were 141 percent higher in Alaska and 188 percent higher in Anchorage than in the U.S.
In addition to forcible rapes, Anchorage also has a high rate of reported sexual assaults (although national comparisons are not available). The definition of a sexual assault is less restrictive than that of a forcible rape: sexual contact with another person, male or female, without the consent of that other person. In 2002, there were 254 forcible rapes and 85 sexual assaults reported to the Anchorage Police Department, for a total of 339 forcible rapes and sexual assaults. Furthermore, according to analysis done by Callie Marie Rennison for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, national statistics indicate that only 36 percent of forcible rapes, 34 percent of attempted forcible rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police. In light of this, the forcible rape and sexual assault problem in Anchorage is probably worse than that indicated by police statistics.
A joint project of the UAA Justice Center and the Anchorage Police Department has focused on gaining a better understanding of the parameters of the rape problem in Anchorage. Researchers collected data from all sexual assaults and rapes reported to the Anchorage Police Department in 2000 and 2001. These data contain detailed information on the assaults, victims, and suspects. The findings presented here reflect a quantitative perspective on those assaults that have been reported. It is important to note again that many sexual assaults go unreported.
The key findings from this study suggest that interventions will be successful in Anchorage only insofar as they take into account:
- Geographical and temporal concentration of reported sexual assaults and rapes;
- Demographic characteristics of victims and suspects;
- Types of victim-suspect relationships;
- Locations of assaults; and
- Use of alcohol.
Like all criminal activity, sexual assaults and rapes are neither geographically nor temporally random. In the data studied, reported sexual assaults and rapes were most likely to occur in five community council areas—Downtown, Fairview, Spenard, Mountain View, and, to a lesser extent, Northeast Anchorage (see Figure 2). More specifically, 10.1 percent of the sexual assaults and rapes reported in 2000 and 2001 occurred Downtown, 10.1 percent in Fairview, 13.4 percent in Spenard, 10.1 percent in Mountain View, and 9.0 percent in Northeast. Of the 424 assault locations reported in 2000 and 2001, 52.7 percent were in these five community council areas. Temporally, reported sexual assaults and rapes were most likely to occur on the weekends and from 10 PM to 6 AM. More precisely, 49 percent of sexual assaults and rapes reported in 2000 and 2001 occurred on weekends and 60 percent occurred between 10 PM and 6 AM.
Knowing where and when sexual assaults and rapes occur is an important step in defining the problem to be solved. These results provide reliable evidence of the geographical and temporal concentration of sexual assaults and rape—rather than unreliable evidence based on hunches, experience, or common sense. This evidence suggests that police efforts to combat sexual assaults and rape ought to be concentrated on the weekends from 10 PM to 6 AM in Downtown, Fairview, Spenard, Mountain View, and Northeast.
At the same time, police efforts to combat sexual assault and rape need to take into consideration the demographic characteristics of both victims and suspects. The vast majority (95.5%) of victims were female, with most (93.2%) residing in Anchorage. Almost all suspects (99.4%) were male and, again, most (94.3%) resided in Anchorage. Most victims were Caucasian or Native, with Native victims vastly overrepresented (see Table 1). For reported sexual assaults and rapes, Natives were 7.6 times more likely than others to be a victim.
Suspects were more racially diverse than victims (see Table 2). Most suspects were Caucasian, but Native and African-American suspects were overrepresented in proportion to the general population.
The age of victims and suspects is shown in Figure 3. On average, victims were 5 years younger than suspects. For victims, the highest rate of reported sexual assault and rape was for 15-to-19-year-olds (6.76 per 1,000) while for suspects, the highest rate of reported sexual assault and rape was for 20-to-24-year-olds (3.75 per 1,000).
With these demographics characterizing those involved in sexual assaults, interventions should primarily focus on Anchorage residents rather than visitors. Furthermore, it is clear that victim-focused interventions must occur at an earlier age than suspect-focused interventions. The daily routines of 15-to-19-year-olds are substantially different than those of 20-to-24-year-olds. In particular, 15-to-19-year-olds are likely to be in school during the week, making schools an attractive intervention partner for victim-focused interventions. Developing suspect-focused interventions in schools, however, makes little sense as most suspects are beyond school age.
It would also make little sense to develop interventions without considering the relationships between victims and suspects. These relationships are described in greater detail in Table 3. According to the 2002 National Crime Victimization Survey, only 32.5 percent of sexual assaults nationwide and rapes are stranger assaults. In Anchorage, however, stranger assaults are far more common. In 2000 and 2001, 44.3 percent of victims who reported a sexual assault or rape to police did not know the offender beforehand. Among non-stranger assaults, the most common were assaults between casual acquaintances (30.4%) and those between well-known friends (27.1%). Unfortunately, little is known about the differences between stranger and non-stranger assaults. Consequently, the implications of this important finding are still unclear. It is likely, however, that important differences between stranger and non-stranger assaults do exist, requiring separate approaches to reduce occurrence. For example, it is possible that non-stranger assaults are more likely to occur in private places than stranger assaults.
Though we have not yet investigated these differences, our analyses clearly reveal that most sexual assaults reported to police (over 67.7%) occurred indoors (see Table 4). The most common indoor locations included the victim’s residence and the suspect’s residence. Of the sexual assault locations, 45.3 percent were the victim’s residence or suspect’s residence (or both), and an additional 9.9 percent took place in some other residence. In comparison, fewer sexual assaults occurred outdoors (22.0%). Common outdoor locations included fields, woods, parks, roads, streets, and parking lots. Few assaults occurred in vacant lots (5.3%), city parks (1.9%), or along park trails (0.5%). Overall, our data show that only 4.3 percent of reported sexual assaults originated in parks, fields, or woods and that only 7.3 percent occurred in these places. Most of these places were vacant lots. Moreover, while only one assault was reported as occurring in a bar, the original pick-up in 54 cases (13.6%) occurred in a bar—a finding that should be seen in relation to the figures on alcohol involvement in sexual assaults.
Consequently, strategies that target outdoor places, particularly ones that target parks or trails, will not appreciably affect the rates of sexual assault and rape in Anchorage. Although the municipality’s Trail Watch Program instituted in September 2003 may reduce the fear of crime among trail users (and may reduce other forms of crime), it will probably have negligible effects, if any, on the occurrence of sexual assaults and rapes if these patterns continue. Different strategies must be used to lower the rates of sexual assault and rape in Anchorage, since most rapes occur indoors, in residences.
Finally, interventions must take into account that alcohol use was very frequent among both suspects and victims. During 2000 and 2001, 76.2 percent of suspects and 59.9 percent of victims had used alcohol. Table 5 displays victim and suspect alcohol use for 176 cases (cases with only one victim and one suspect and cases where both victim and suspect alcohol use was known). Both the suspect and the victim had used alcohol in 59.7 percent of these cases. Only the suspect had used alcohol in 13.1 percent of these cases. Only the victim had used alcohol in 1.7 percent of these cases and neither the suspect nor the victim used alcohol in 25.6 percent of these cases. Stated differently, almost 75 percent of these cases involved alcohol—either by the suspect, the victim, or both.
Overall, we have come a long way towards defining the problems to be solved, diagnosing these problems, and identifying their causes. Though the analyses are neither finished nor definitive, we nonetheless now have some reliable information that can be used to enhance the success of community and police rape prevention efforts. We ought to make sure that all interventions take into consideration that:
- Reported sexual assaults and rapes occur mostly on the weekends from 10 PM to 6 AM in Downtown, Fairview, Spenard, Mountain View, and Northeast;
- The highest victimization rates are for 15-to-19-year-olds while the highest offending rates are for 20-to-24-year-olds;
- 44.3 percent of victims are assaulted by strangers;
- 59.6 percent of known assault locations are private residences; and
- Alcohol use is very frequent among both suspects and victims.
It must be understood that police alone cannot solve the sexual assault and rape problem that has plagued Anchorage for well over 20 years. The data suggest that effective solutions to this problem need to be both suspect-focused and victim-focused (as well as event-focused). Many have dismissed the idea of victim-focused interventions for fear that it leads to victim blaming. The reality, however, is that we can educate about sexual assault and rape without blaming victims for sexual assault and rape: we educate homeowners about burglary prevention without blaming them for burglaries and we educate business owners about shoplifting without blaming them for shoplifting.
André Rosay is an assistant professor with the Justice Center. The Justice Center report on which this article was based, Descriptive Analysis of Sexual Assaults in Anchorage, Alaska, is available on the Justice Center website, http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/. This project was supported by Grant No. 2000-RH-CX-K039 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.