On October 14, 2012, Governor Parnell had an opinion piece in the Juneau Empire titled, “From Rampant to Rare – Domestic Violence in Alaska”, to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month. He focused on his signature social issue of reducing violence against women.
Governor Parnell was specific when he took office that reducing domestic violence was a top priority for him. On December 3, 2009, he unveiled his comprehensive initiative to fight abuse saying, “Today we’re putting domestic violence and sexual assault at the forefront. We’ll make it intolerable, unacceptable and the ramifications for those committing these crimes against Alaskans, unbearable.”
The Governor unveiled his “Choose Respect Campaign” in 2010, and had a list of legislative, budget, and administrative actions that would add more funding to all the various programs and shelters that care for the victims and their children. (http://gov.alaska.gov/parnell/press-room/full-press-release.html?pr=5185)
Governor Parnell explained, with considerable emotion, that this passion came out of his own experience witnessing his grandfather abuse his grandmother. I was pleasantly surprised that Alaskans had a Governor with the political courage to shine daylight on the scourge of violence against women by sharing such a personal story.
According to an article in the National Review, it was not the first time the Governor had shared that part of his life. The reporter writes, “In 1996, he was elected to the state Senate and championed legislation to toughen domestic violence penalties, citing the effect his grandfather’s alcoholism and physical abuse had on his own family.”
Friends of mine in the domestic violence/sexual assault field were gratified that the Governor brought this issue to the forefront of public policy. They work in the trenches year after year and it’s got to be discouraging, but true to his word, over the past two years, television ads with men and boys solemnly vowing to “Choose Respect” have become commonplace.
When you launch a marketing campaign (which this is), you check awareness levels at various intervals to see if the message is working. Have people heard of your product? Where did they hear it? Did the ad change their perception of the product? Most important, did it move the needle with increased profits? Did it raise awareness of your brand?
Smart marketing campaigns can change habits. Years ago, Americans’ behavior in their cars was changed with the national “Buckle Up” campaign. I still remember the jingle, “Buckle up for safety, buckle up. Buckle up for safety, everybody buckle up!” Nobody used to use seatbelts, but now it’s the norm. The same is true with Ladybird Johnson’s anti-litter campaign in the 1960’s. It’s hard to believe now, but many people nonchalantly tossed their trash out the car window or on the sidewalk before littering became socially unacceptable and against the law.
I’m trying to find out if murders, rapes and beatings of Alaskan women by Alaskan men have gone down in the past two years. Has the “Choose Respect” advertising campaign made a statistically proven difference in our society? Are women safer now than they were two years ago? Has the “Choose Respect” campaign moved the needle? Has it gone from “rampant to rare” yet?
In his column, Governor Parnell says, “Sometimes you just know when someone is in trouble. It takes courage to acknowledge our own instincts and ask if you can help that person (who is abused). In doing so, we bind up wounds and set captives free, helping people get back what has been stolen by others, replacing despair with hope.” He suggests carrying a card with contact information for shelters that we can hand to women in trouble. The Governor says, “It takes courage to acknowledge your own instincts and ask if you can help that person.”
More to the point, I think, are men at the place where they will intervene? Are they ready to take a friend or family member aside and tell him to stop belittling his wife or girlfriend in public, yelling at her, beating her? Is that too shocking, or too hard, or too awkward?
I know that many women help women escape, drive them to a shelter, or provide support when the woman does decide to leave her abuser. Do men know that there are posters in almost every public women's restroom and doctor's office asking women if they are being abused and telling them how to get help? Women are acutely aware that there are shelters for women in just about every town and city in the country.
We’ve had two years of Choose Respect. The governor writes, “In 2010, 18 communities hosted Choose Respect rallies. In 2011, the movement grew to more than 60 communities. By 2012, more than 120 communities stepped forward.” I appreciate what Governor Parnell is doing and thank him for his continuing commitment.
What we need to know is, “Have the numbers of victims gone down as the movement has grown?” If not, let’s ratchet this campaign up another notch to Choose Restraint. That might bring to mind Restraining Orders. If that’s too subtle, let’s think of something else and keep trying until Alaskan women and girls are safe no matter where they live.