Increasing sexual assault response resources must be a priority in Alaska

Medical student, Miss Alaska, writes that victims are not getting the care they need, especially in rural communities

October 5, 2022 5:55 am
African psychologist hold hands of girl patient, close up. Teenage overcome break up, unrequited love. Abortion decision. Psychological therapy, survive personal crisis, individual counselling concept (Photo by Fizkes/Getty Images)

Alaska has the highest rape rate in the entire United States. (Photo by Fizkes/Getty Images)

Alaska has the highest rape rate in the entire United States. In 2020, Alaska reported 154.8 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants. The national average was 38.4. 

While working as a scribe in the Providence emergency department and as a crisis line responder for Standing Together Against Rape Alaska (STAR), I discovered there are many barriers to accessing care for sexual assault survivors in the United States. Alaska, though, faces additional challenges. Anchorage has limited sexual assault response resources. In rural Alaska, these resources are stretched even thinner if they are available at all. 

After learning about these issues, I started using my platform as an Alaska WWAMI medical student and Miss America Organization candidate to raise awareness for sexual assault response resources. Alaska WWAMI is part of the five-state partnership with the University of Washington School of Medicine to provide affordable and accessible medical education. One of WWAMI’s missions is to serve underserved populations, including sexual assault survivors. As a medical student, I’ve had the opportunity to study these issues and understand them from a medical perspective.

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports more than two out of three rapes are unreported. And, even if survivors do report, 97.5% of offenders walk free. Survivors often fear retaliation or feel that they will not receive appropriate help. This problem is exacerbated in Alaska’s small, rural communities where we frequently do not have enough doctors or law enforcement officers to respond in a timely manner.

Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) help survivors understand and better utilize the services available to them. These teams also advocate for the victim by reducing redundant questioning that has been linked to increased trauma. By including representatives from the hospital, law enforcement, the rape crisis center and the prosecuting attorney’s office, SARTs give survivors multidisciplinary support and help hold offenders accountable.

The Miss America Organization then amplified my ability to raise awareness. Contrary to popular belief, pageants are no longer competitions of surface-level beauty featuring seemingly perfect, six-foot-tall blondes. They now emphasize professional development and learning to speak about and advocate for the topics that concern candidates. 

Through the Miss America Organization, I have been able to speak to Alaska state Rep. Geran Tarr and Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, about my social impact initiative. Together, we were able to brainstorm ideas for improving access to sexual assault response resources in our state. Competing allowed me to reach a broader audience and recruit more volunteers for crisis lines. Most importantly, it helped me start a conversation about sexual assault awareness and identify and promote resources for survivors.

I’m honored that I now get to further my platform of increasing access to sexual assault response resources and represent Alaska at the 101st Miss America Competition in December. For more information about sexual assault and resources for survivors, I recommend Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) Alaska, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) and the Joyful Heart Foundation. Together, we can increase, promote and improve sexual assault resources and help this underserved community receive crucial, life-saving support.


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Jessica Reisinger
Jessica Reisinger

Jessica Reisinger is the 2022 Miss Alaska and current Alaska WWAMI medical student in Anchorage. After completing her education, Reisinger plans to serve Alaska as a surgeon or emergency medicine physician.