Alaska Rep. Sarah Vance apologizes for comments about victims of sexual violence

a portrait of a woman in a meeting room
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, sits in the House chamber at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau on Feb. 14, 2024. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

Rep. Sarah Vance of Homer apologized on the House floor Monday for comments she made in a House Tribal Affairs Committee meeting last week.

Committee members heard testimony from people working in organizations serving Alaska Native peoples on the disparities in assault rates and violence against Indigenous women, which is several times higher than the general population.

At the end of the meeting, Vance said she felt the presentation excluded the experiences of white women who are victims of sexual violence.

“It’s the same thing. But what I continue to hear in this committee over and over again, is if you are the only one. And I know that’s not your heart,” she said, “but I asked that, when you come and present, that you remember that you have white sisters who are going through the same thing.”

In response, Rep. Ashley Carrick from Fairbanks — who is also a committee member — highlighted the reason for focusing on challenges for Indigenous women.

“While the suffering is the same for victims, the causes of that violence are not the same. And the response to that violence is not the same. And the justice for the victims is not the same. And until it’s the same, we have got a lot of work to do,” Carrick said.

The Alaska House Coalition called for Vance to apologize on Monday.

“As the only Alaska Native women in the legislature, knowing my native sisters are disproportionately affected by these high rates of violence within Alaska and other states cuts me to my core,” Rep. Maxine Dibert — who is Koyukon Athabascan from Fairbanks — said in a press release from the coalition.

Vance apologized on the House floor that same day, nearly one week after her initial comments. She addressed the committee chair Rep. CJ McCormick and guests directly before expanding her focus.

“But to every victim in every Alaskan Native voice you have been heard and you will continue to be heard in this body. And I asked you to forgive me for, for not listening with understanding first,” she said.

Vance sponsored four bills related to human and sex trafficking this legislative session.

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