Assaults go unchecked, women tell City in work session
City officials faced a room of mostly Alaska Native women Monday evening who demanded the City work with individuals and social agencies to solve the problem of increasing numbers of assaults they say go unaddressed by police.
The group had been meeting for months on addressing the issue of public safety in the city, Lisa Ellanna said. The community was strong in community partnership, she said, but there was a deficiency in public safety “for us, which is really frustrating for us concerning crimes that are demeaning and debilitating,” Ellanna said.
“This work is equivalent to a Dept. of Justice Investigation,” she added.
Some women said they were very angry. But several stressed that they came out of love for their community as well, and wanted to join forces to solve some serious issues.
The women presented and read aloud a document, “Resolution in support of Justice for Alaska Native Sexual Assault and Violent Crime Victims in The Community of Nome, Alaska.”
The document lists 15 “Whereas” entries and ends with the following “Now therefore be it resolved:
Community members of Nome are requesting all City of Nome peace officers receive training on the following issues:
• Cultural orientation specific to Nome and the Bering Strait Region.
• Racial equality training for Nome police officers.
• Sexual and violent crime interview skills training for police officers.
• Sexual assault and violent crime trauma response training for Nome police officers.”
Sgt. Charlie Cross of Alaska State Troopers in Nome said members of his force had received training concerning interviews, as regards trauma and sex assault investigations, with most of the cost picked up by Bering Sea Women’s Group.
The group had been working for about three years on getting from “victimhood to advocacy” concerning dehumanizing acts which had not been getting adequate response from law enforcement, leaders said.
Several women provided examples where they said Nome Police Dept. had not responded when called.
LaVerne Ashenfelter, currently a taxi driver, recounted an experience when she witnessed an assault in progress and police did not respond to her call.
“When we call for help. we expect help,” Ashenfelter said. “When you see someone getting hurt, you stop it. I’m tired of being quiet. God put me on earth to say something,” she said. “We want eyes open and victims to be helped.”
“They go to drugs, alcohol, and suicide,” she added.
Nome Planning Commissioner Sara Lizak participated in the presentation. She saw the seriousness of the issue, she said, pointing out that out of 40 police calls on sexual assault last year, five had resulted in arrests—way too low a number.
“Why call it in? It tells people their cases aren’t going anywhere,” she said.
Nome Common Council members Stan Andersen, Jerald Brown, Doug Johnson, Mark Johnson as well as Planning Commission representatives Sara Lizak and Larry Pedersen attended the May 7 work session.
Nome Police Dept. Lt. Nick Harvey and Alaska State Trooper Charlie Cross were also present and heard the concerns.
Kirsten Timbers asked officials and audience to recognize the work the women had done, also work with agencies such as NSHC Behavior Health Services, Kawerak, the hospital, and other social services. The group had not come to the City to point fingers, Timbers said. The lack of response was not individuals’ failure, but a system failure, she added.
“We want to be part of the solution and make it better in our community,” Eva Menadelook said. “We stand as victims or someone we care about.
Andersen assured the women that they would receive a response from the City.
“Obviously we have to hear from the chief [NPD Chief John Papasodora],” he said.
“We don’t expect any resolution tonight,” Ellanna said. “We want to be at the table with you.”
The group wanted to have the number of rape kits on hand and the number processed or not processed, for starters. City officials said they would provide the numbers.
The meeting occurred after the newspaper deadline. Response from law enforcement was not available. Stay tuned for additional information and update.