DIGGING IN THE ARCHIVES

In this February 1991 edition of the Frontiersman, then-reporter Delia Wallis told readers that the perpetrators of at least two rapes had not been identified within a week of the incidents. One of the cases would not be solved for 20 years.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a year-long series of monthly “Digging in the Archives” articles related to the Frontiersman’s news from 25 years ago. The series will illustrate our effort to remember the past with an eye toward the future.

WASILLA — No one knew, in 1991, that the man who kidnapped and raped an 8-year-old girl on Fairview Loop wouldn’t be identified for 20 years. Neither did anyone know that by 2013, one study should show one third of all adult women living in the Mat-Su Valley reported being victims of some kind of sexual violence.

More inside

On Feb. 13, 1991, then-Frontiersman reporter Delia Wallis recorded the Feb. 8 abduction and sexual abuse of the girl, which began on the girl’s walk home from her bus stop. According to the story, a strange man threatened the girl with a weapon, forced her into his vehicle and drove off. After being bound and raped, the girl was dropped off near Vine Road, about five miles from the bus stop, in below-freezing temperatures.

A sketch of the suspect’s face and that of another attacker dominated the front page of the Frontiersman that week, and the stories gradually made their way into the inside pages, growing ever smaller. Months went by, and in the newspaper’s final December edition that year, three sentences told readers all there was to know: no arrests had been made in the child rape case.

David Wilson, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program Director at Alaska Family Services in Palmer, said that wouldn’t be all that surprising, given that no arrests were made or suspects located soon after the attack.

“It can be hard to catch a culprit because, after 96 hours, there’s a really slim chance of gathering evidence,” Wilson said.

Even with the evidence, he said it’s not uncommon for the time between collection and prosecution to stretch into years.

“If it does go to trial, it’s usually a really slow process,” he said.

The 1991 case, though now closed, never went to trial.

In August of 2011, former Frontiersman reporter Andrew Wellner broke the news to local readers that the perpetrator had been identified as a man named Brooks E. Jackson — who died at age 46 in 2006.

Jackson had been imprisoned in 2005 for growing marijuana. As a condition of his conviction — a class C felony, at the time — he was required to submit a DNA sample. Six days after the sample was submitted, he committed suicide.

It took years for Jackson’s DNA to be matched to one of the 9.8 million samples in the state’s database, but it was a perfect match with the girl’s rapist, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Taking action

In 2003, then-Mat-Su Borough Mayor Tim Anderson created the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Police Powers to address community complaints about the rise in crime. The task force conducted a study to determine the most prevalent crimes in the borough, and evaluate ways to prevent them.

Two years later, the task force reported that between 1999 and 2003, calls made to troopers for assault, domestic violence, robbery, homicide, kidnapping and vehicle theft in the Valley had doubled. The task force recommended that the borough work with community groups to “develop and fund programs that emphasize prevention, education, intervention, and treatment.”

Anderson said education was probably the most important component of that recommendation.

“It’s the only thing I think works better than any kind of enforcement,” he said.

But it can be hard to convince the public to get behind programs before they’re clearly developed.

“All things sound good until it gets down to … how do we pay for it,” Anderson said. “It’s typical government. If we asked if they wanted to increase the tax base for that, they’d all say no.”

The task force shut down after it issued its final report in 2005.

Digging deeper

Two years after the 1991 case was closed, in 2013, the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault conducted an Alaska Victimization Survey, in which 1,190 women were randomly selected to anonymously answer questions about their personal sexual history.

The results indicated 34 percent of adult women in the Mat-Su Valley had experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes.

Around that time, the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage acquired a nationally competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to compile data on and analyze domestic violence and sexual assault incidents closed by troopers between 2008 and 2011.

According to the report, which was completed in 2015, sexual assault (SA) and sexual abuse of a minor (SAM) cases took an average of seven months to close. This average was determined was after eight outlying cases — which took at least 20 years to solve (and were investigated by Fairbanks troopers) — were removed from the sample.

Brad Myrstol, director of the UAA Justice Statistical Analysis Center, said he was not surprised to learn some cases can last decades.

“Certainly no agency wants (a case) to go on that long, but for us to expect that not to happen again is an unrealistic expectation,” he said.

Looking forward

Myrstol agreed with Anderson that education is an important aspect of crime prevention, which he hopes the study will provide.

“What we’re attempting to do is build resource capacity and data resources … and make that available to the public and available for researchers to mine and explore,” he said.

The UAA study also highlighted the need for some auxiliary public education on how the Alaska Criminal Justice System works, Myrstol said.

“The law on the books is quite different from the law in action. We need to educate people about that difference,” he said.

On the troopers’ side of things, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coordinator Randi Breager said the report is “hugely beneficial,” and will allow them to give more specific information to those who ask in the future.

“Anecdotally we know stuff, and we can tell you our experiences, but the reality is that it’s anecdotal … (so) to have localized state data is really important,” she said.

Of significance to Breager — who helped plan the UAA project and compile data for the report — was that, even when SA/SAM and domestic violence are differentiated, suspects were known to victims in nearly all instances.

“Nationally, 15-20 years ago, it was very much this stranger danger awareness campaign,” with warnings against kids talking to strangers or entering avoidable, unsafe situations, Breager said.

While those were and are very important messages, she said they may have been too conditional.

“I think the community as a whole is gonna see this shift into basically making sure kids understand ways to stay safe regardless of whether (the perpetrator) is a family member or friend or someone they trust,” Breager said. “Local nonprofits do a really good job already of getting into schools and sending messages about personal space, safe touches, and being in charge of your body, and I think you’ll see more of that with the passing of Bree’s Law and Erin’s Law.”

Contact reporter Caitlin Skvorc at 352-2266 or caitlin.skvorc@frontiersman.com.

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