Two Alaska reporters explain the sexual assault allegations against Iditarod musher Brent Sass

a musher with a microphone under the Iditarod burled arch
Brent Sass in Nome after winning the 2022 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Reader warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual violence. 

The Iditarod last week disqualified former champion Brent Sass from this year’s race following accusations he sexually assaulted multiple women.

The thousand-mile race to Nome kicks off Saturday. The vote by the Iditarod Trail Committee Board to bar the 44-year-old Interior Alaska dog musher came nearly four months after the race received a letter accusing Sass of sexual assault. It was also a week after Alaska Public Media, the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica first asked the Iditarod about the allegations against Sass, who won the race in 2022.

Working in collaboration, the newsrooms spoke to two women who say Sass sexually assaulted them within otherwise consensual sexual relationships that took place more than a decade ago.

Sass has denied the allegations.

Alaska Public Media reporter Casey Grove and Daily News and ProPublica reporter Kyle Hopkins, who teamed up on the story, said their reporting started with the letter.


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This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kyle Hopkins: So, this two-page letter went out in early November to officials with the top sled dog races in Alaska, saying Sass had sexually assaulted multiple women over the course of a decade. And it asked that he be permanently banned from the races, which included the Kuskokwim 300, the Iditarod and both the Yukon Quest Alaska.

The letter was signed by Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Alaska director Rose O’Hara-Jolley, acting as an advocate for the women. Later, the newsrooms separately obtained copies of the letter.

Now, we should note that Sass has denied ever having nonconsensual sex with anyone, and he has not been charged with a crime.

O’Hara-Jolley just fully declined to comment when asked about the Planned Parenthood letter, and it didn’t contain any names of alleged victims. But the letter set us on a path of investigating its claims.

As it turned out, one of the races, the Kuskokwim 300 out of Bethel, had already obtained information beyond what was contained in the Nov. 2 letter, according to a K300 document that we were provided. Officials with that race quietly asked Sass to withdraw in December, which he did, after asking race officials to reconsider.

But another race, the Yukon Quest Alaska 300, made a different decision: It allowed Sass to stay in.

A Yukon Quest Alaska board member resigned, saying the race had failed to investigate. That was Quest and Iditarod veteran Jodi Bailey, who said, quote, “I was told that this might be bad for Brent and we needed to try and keep this quiet.”

Bailey said it was the race’s board president, Mark Weber, who told her that.

Weber denied making those comments.

Sass went on to win the Yukon Quest Alaska and took home $7,500 among other prizes.

Lori Townsend: So what about the alleged victims that you actually talked to? I take it you had been talking to them at some point after seeing the letter?

Casey Grove: That’s right, we heard from two women, separately, who said Sass had sexually assaulted them.

The newsrooms typically do not name alleged victims of sexual assault unless they choose to be named.

One was a former dog handler who moved to Fairbanks as a young adult to work for Sass. She said, eventually, they started having sex.

She said they were together in a sauna one time when Sass said he wanted to have sex. She said she told him no, but she said Sass put his hand around her throat, choked her and proceeded to have sex with her.

She said that another time, they were having consensual sex when Sass made her perform a sex act after she told him she didn’t want to do it.

That woman signed a sworn and notarized statement that included the specific sexual assault allegations. Two of her friends told the newsrooms they remembered her telling them, years ago, that Sass had nonconsensual sex with her. The woman also presented a copy of a journal entry dated during the time she worked for Sass saying he suddenly slapped her in the face while they were having sex, an assertion she also made in her recent sworn statement.

The woman said she didn’t go to the police at the time because she was not thinking clearly, depended on Sass for shelter at his remote dog kennel and worked for him. She also said it took her time to realize what she says happened to her was wrong.

LT: And you spoke with another accuser?

KH: Yeah, so we spoke to a second woman who also said she had a sexual relationship with Sass. She said he forced her to engage in sex acts to which she had not consented.

She said, quote, “I was actively saying ‘stop.’”

She provided us with three emails sent over a two-year period telling friends and family that Sass had sexually assaulted her.

In one, dated 2016, she wrote that Sass, quote, “choked, hit, bit and otherwise caused me a lot of physical pain, all without prior consent, or any discussion on these activities.”

That email also said Sass had forced her multiple times to engage in a sex act.

That woman gave us a copy of a letter from the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living stating that in 2015 she had been a client of the Fairbanks domestic violence shelter and had, quote, “identified Brent Sass as her abuser.”

It’s not clear how much of the accounts that we gathered from the two women and other sources may have been in the Iditarod’s possession when it moved to disqualify Sass.

LT: So she went to a domestic violence shelter, but, like the first woman, she didn’t go to police. Did she say why?

KH: Well, that relates to something we’ve heard from other people who say they are survivors of sexual assault, and in fact, it’s mentioned in the Planned Parenthood letter. And that’s that people in these situations feel it can be difficult to get justice.

The second of Sass’ accusers wrote about this in her 2016 email, and I’m just going to read this to you.

She wrote, “Why don’t I take legal action? I’ve thought about it. Rape is extremely difficult to prove, and our society is highly prone to victim shaming. I have little faith the result would be positive for me. I struggle with the fact that he is a quasi-public figure with a sunshiney, heroic reputation. I do want people to know the truth, but it’s not a truth that people want to hear, or are likely to accept.”

The woman also wrote in the email that Sass warned her that, quote, “If I said anything to anyone in Fairbanks that was bad about him he would ruin me.”

From previous reporting, we have estimates that fewer than one-third of sexual assault survivors report their allegations to police. And we know that in Alaska, for cases where the most serious charge is first-degree sexual assault, only 11% actually end in a conviction on that charge.

LT: What did Sass say about all of this?

CG: Well, we talked to him in an interview just about a week ago, and he denied each allegation.

Here’s what he said about the allegations more broadly:

Brent Sass: “None of that happened. I’m going to flat out deny it. None of it happened. These are personal attacks. People just don’t want me in the sport anymore.”

CG: Sass also told us that he never threatened anyone.

Brent Sass: “If they felt that way, I would tell them, ‘Tell somebody.’ If they felt that way, I would be talking it out. I would never tell anyone to hide it or just not say anything.”

And to be clear: At that point, Sass had not been disqualified from the Iditarod. But he did tell us that the race had asked him to withdraw days earlier.

Then, on Thursday, the Iditarod announced it had disqualified Sass for this year’s race.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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