Alaska Is the Most Dangerous State for Women. Now They Are Fighting Back.
By Lindsay Schnell
Ronalda Angasan says she knew she had to leave home the day her husband threatened her unborn grandchild.
She had been out shopping with her pregnant daughter. When they returned, she says her husband exploded in anger: “Bitch! Slut! Whore!”
She says he had found her work phone, furious to learn she had a line of communication he wasn’t monitoring. He accused her of using it to cheat on him, she says.
She was used to seeing rage consume her husband. For years, she says, he had physically abused her, once beating her to the point of unconsciousness. But his next threat stunned her.
“Something’s gonna happen to her baby,” she recalls him saying. “Your granddaughter isn’t safe.”
How did it get to this point, she wondered. Didn’t she know better?
Angasan, now 46, says every woman in her life — her grandmother, her mom, her aunt — experienced violence, sexual assault, or both. It was an open secret in their home, though never directly discussed. Her grandmother got pushed; her mother got slapped; every woman got screamed at.
As a teenager, Angasan grew resentful, and mouthy.
“I’d never let a man treat me this way,” she’d tell her mother. “Why do you allow somebody to do this to you? Why aren’t you strong enough to leave?”
But abuse, Angasan learned, is gradual. It starts slowly and before you know it, you’re choked off from your family and friends, alone in a relationship that terrifies you. Five years after escaping what she says was a 20-year abusive marriage, Angasan has become an accidental activist, an advocate born out of the worst circumstances. She's shared her story online and in person at the United Nations to try to help others find freedom and healing.
Angasan’s story – part of which she detailed in a restraining order she filed in 2014 – isn’t unique; women all over Alaska are in danger. The state routinely has some of the nation’s highest rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and murder. Coupled with severe alcohol and drug abuse, and high child abuse rates, the state has become a terrifying environment for women of all ages, across ethnic and socioeconomic spectrums.
“If Alaska was a Third World country, with the rates of domestic violence and sexual assault that we have, they’d declare a humanitarian crisis and the United Nations would move in,” says Elizabeth Williams, another Anchorage-based activist.
But because that’s not happening, Williams, Angasan and a handful of other women have decided they have to make change themselves. After decades of empty promises from politicians, the #MeToo wave has finally reached the 49th state. Now, activists have a to-do list. They want tougher sentencing laws, expanded legal definitions of sexual assault, and better information for victims during the prosecution and plea process. They want women to come forward, like Angasan did, and share their stories. They want believing women to be the default.
Women here like being known as “Alaska tough.” When you pass a woman on the street wearing a short skirt and high heels, there’s a decent chance she knows how to hunt, kill and skin an animal. She might be packing a weapon. And she could very well be living in fear of her life. Almost 60 percent of women in Alaska have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual assault or both, according to Standing Together Against Rape. Everyone knows this is happening, activists say, and