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“And then they get drunk and you don’t know what they’re going to do.”Then, last year, Jane joined the Tanana 4-H club, a newly minted outlet for local youth of all ages to gather and play games and craft things like blueberry jam and beaver hats.It’s run by Cynthia Erickson, owner of Tanana’s general store and native of Ruby, a village 100 miles downriver.Their stories had rocked the small community, too, but the fresh feeling “didn’t really stick,” Jane admits.“It went back like the old way.”In its short history as a state, Alaska has earned an unnerving epithet: It is the rape capital of the U. At nearly 80 rapes per 100,000, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, Alaska’s rape rate is almost three times the national average; for child sexual assault, it’s nearly six times.Instead of explaining how they’d come up with their anti-suicide pledge, the kids decided to share the reasons they’d needed one in the first place.Jane spoke about her own abuse and described in detail what has been horrifyingly typical for the people around her: A local woman who was gang raped until she could “barely walk.” A young boy who was sexually assaulted by an older man and later killed himself.But for years, she felt scared, hypersensitive, and depressed.She never told her parents about the incident; she was too afraid of what would happen, and anyway, when she told one of her sisters, the only response she received was a dry laugh. “Just leave it alone.”Growing up in Tanana, a town of 254, the prevalence of this kind of thing was common knowledge, but rarely discussed.
After the presentation, she called her children and apologized to them.“You just freeze.”Jane is a tall basketball player with bright eyes, rectangular black-framed glasses, and a wide, eager smile.She has no trouble listing accomplishments and affinities: She’s ambidextrous by choice, grew up doing all the rugged outdoor chores men do, raves gleefully over beloved local foods like fried moose heart and walrus in seal oil.Instead, the kids would launch the conversation by saying, “Did you hear what happened?”Last fall, the group was asked to give a presentation at a statewide conference held by the First Alaskans Institute in Fairbanks.