Alaska in Brief

Alaska homicide statistics detailed in new report show gender and ethnic disparities

By: - March 21, 2023 5:00 am
Names of homicide victims are engraved on pillars seen Monday at the Alaska Victims of VIolent Crime Memorial in downtown Anchorage. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Names of homicide victims are engraved on pillars seen Monday at the Alaska Victims of VIolent Crime Memorial in downtown Anchorage. A newly released state report shows patterns among homicide victims. Rates for Alaska Natives are more than twice the state average, according to the report. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Twice as many males as females were homicide victims in Alaska from 2011 to 2020, , according to a report released Monday by state health officials.

Homicides increased over the period, from a low of 34 in 2011 to a high of 78 in 2019, according to the report, released by the Alaska Division of Public Health’s epidemiology section. However, in 2020 there was a notable decline, to 51. The homicide rate in Alaska went from 4.7 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 10.7 per 100,000 people in 2019 before dropping to 7 per 100,000 people.

Deborah Hull-Jilly, the injury surveillance program manager for the division’s epidemiology section, said the drop in 2020 is yet to be explained. “That’s something we’re still trying to figure out,” said Hull-Jilly, a coauthor of the report.

She also noted that the statistics are, in some ways, incomplete. There are still outstanding cases still to be solved, including some that predate 2011, she said. The report considers only those cases that have been fully adjudicated, she said.

The numbers in the report showed some starkly different patterns for male and female victims.

Among women and girls, 38% of the victims were killed by intimate partners or former partners. That compares to 7% of the cases for male victims, according to the report. However, for both genders, there was missing information about the relationship to the perpetrators, which was unknown for 23% of female victims and 31% of male victims.

There were other striking demographic differences. Alaska Natives had, by far, the highest homicide rates, more than twice the state averages over the period.

Anchorage accounted for about 45% of the homicides over the period. Certain rural areas – Northern and Southwest Alaska – had the highest rates, as measured by homicides per 100,000 people.

While homicide rates were generally highest for adults in their 20s and 30s, there were 33 children aged 9 and younger who were homicide victims over the 10-year period, the report said.

Guns were used in more than half of the homicides, the report said.

Substance abuse was a factor in the homicides. More than a third of homicide suspects were found to have abused alcohol or other substances prior to the killings, and about a third of the victims were known to have substance-abuse problems, the report said.

One trend over time was increasing use of drugs, including methamphetamine, among victims. “That was the thing that jumped out at me is that we’re seeing more drug use. Temporally, it does show a distinctive trend over time,” Hull-Jilly said.

Overall, homicides accounted for 19% of all violent deaths in Alaska during the period. The vast majority of violent deaths in Alaska are suicides, Hull-Jilly said.

Suicides are not included in this report, though several other epidemiology reports have analyzed patterns of suicide deaths and attempts. One 2020 epidemiology bulletin found that from 2018 to 2020, a period that included the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alaska’s suicide statistics were largely flat but drug overdose deaths increased substantially.

Also excluded from the newly released homicide report were a variety of other types of traumatic deaths: those due to “legal intervention,” unintentional poisonings or overdoses, accidental gun deaths, unintentional deaths from vehicular homicides or deaths to fetuses or prematurely born infants because of violence inflicted upon their mothers.

In comparison to the Alaska figures, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has calculated a national homicide rate for 2021 of 7.8 per 100,000 people.


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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.