U.S. Attorney General William Barr visits Bethel to discuss public safety crisis
There are about 25 thousand people that live on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, and village leaders say the area is in a public safety crisis.
It’s that need that U.S. Attorney General William Barr says drove him to make Alaska his first visit in office.
"I feel strongly that one of the roles of the attorney general is to make sure that the criminal justice system works for all Americans. Especially those in rural communities, especially those, as are here, are under served”, said William Barr, U.S. Attorney General.
In Bethel Friday he, alongside U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, heard stories of abuse, violence, and the immense challenges advocates say they face is helping victims and their communities.
Staff at Tundra Women’s Coalition are one of the few places victims of violence can go.
“It can range from two children in one week, up to eight children in one week. It all depends”, said Carmen Pitka Children's Advocacy Center Program Director.
During their round table discussion with Barr staff talked about the conditions women and children come to them in; children with sexually transmitted diseases, like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, women and children who have spent nearly a year in the safety of the shelter, women hiding from abusers in vacant building for hours while law enforcement make their way to a far flung village.
Senator Lisa Murkowski remarked about how likely children are to cross paths with the criminal justice system after they’ve experience the trauma of abuse early in their lives. But TWC’s outreach coordinate is an example of another route child survivors or trauma can come up through the system. Annie Mae Lee shared that she visited the center as a child, and is now their Outreach and Prevention Coordinator.
Lee says she just wants rural Alaska to be seen, and the visit from Barr and Murkowski gives her hope that the states issues will be brought to light, and addressed.
TWC has funding to get women and children to the center, but not to get them back to their villages, which can leave women stranded without any resources.
In towns across the river delta, leaders at the Association of Village Council Presidents say suspicious deaths aren’t just going unsolved, they’re going without investigations, and every death has a ripple effect.
“Whether or not we know the person it traumatizes us because we know our communities, we have family members all across the region”, said Martha Whitman- Kassock, a program director for Association of Village Council Presidents.
The public safety issues in this area are as winding and powerful as the rivers that run through it. But with the visit of the U.S. Attorney General people in Bethel are hopeful for a new system, more personnel, and an effective way to change their communities.