Light rain began to fall around noon, just as about 200 to 250 supporters of the governor’s “Choose Respect” campaign against domestic and sexual violence in Alaska gathered at the steps on the state Capitol, preparing to march downtown.
Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, took it as a sign.
“We have a day like today in Juneau in Southeast (with) the strongest of the Southeast winds, the Taku,” Joule told the crowd. “While it makes us shiver, it’s here to help us carry this message all across Alaska.”
Juneau’s “Choose Respect” march was one of nearly 100 that took place across the state on Thursday. And the message was loud and clear.
“Right now we stand arm and arm with Alaskans in 100 communities who are marching from Metlakatla to Barrow and from our urban hubs to our smallest communities,” said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who kicked off the rally in Juneau. “We’re covering the state with a very powerful message: one assault is too many. One rape is too many. Our children, women, men deserve safety. We want all people to thrive in Alaska. We want Alaska to lead, but we should not lead in the statistics, the grim statistics of sexual violence, of sexual assault, of domestic violence and hurting our children. We’ve got to turn that around.”
Before the crowd began the march down Main Street to Marine Park, Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, shared some of those grim numbers with the crowd during her turn at the microphone. She said women in Alaska are 2 1/2 times more likely to be raped during their lifetime and children six times more likely to experience child abuse than in other states across the nation.
“We have to stop that number,” she said, adding that the rally is not a celebration. “It’s a call to action,” she said.
Ending the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska has been one of Gov. Sean Parnell’s most outspoken initiatives since taking office. The Choose Respect campaign is aimed at reducing those numbers of violence incidents, but also breaking the practice of remaining silent on the issue.
“As a society — as Alaskans — we must change our practice of preserving silence,” the governor, who attended a Choose Respect”rally in Fairbanks on Thursday, wrote on the Choose Respect website. “And, we must promote a culture of respect that will not tolerate this conduct.”
Treadwell reiterated that point, saying that it’s time to shine a lot on what has been “too long ignored.”
“Each of us can lend our courage to victims and survivors by taking a visible and vocal stand for what we want as a social norm: respect for all,” he said, adding, “Together today, by coming together here and by marching down the hill, we’re calling on all Alaskans to change our social norms and to return to our values of choosing respect.”
The Juneau rally was cosponsored by AWARE, short for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies. Atia Nasiah, the AWARE prevention manager, said the march sends a powerful message, especially to victims and survivors.
“It’s a community-wide issue that takes a community-wide response, and it will never be solved by an individual,” she said. “So for Juneau to come together in this way is so meaningful for victims who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, very meaningful.”
Thunder Mountain High School coach John Blasco, also a guest speaker, urged sports coaches across the state to join him and his athletes in signing the state pledge to fight against domestic violence and sexual assault and to implement the “Coaching Boys into Men” program in their schools or organizations. That program educates young athletes on respect for themselves and women and girls during the sports season.
Blasco said the 2010 TMHS basketball team was the first sports program in the state to implement that program, and two other teams recently joined — the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team and the TMHS boys soccer team.
“As coaches, we have special relationships with our players,” Blasco said. “We can positively impact how they behave on and off the court, and as mentors, we have the ability to reach out to these young athletes and positively encourage them to have respectful lifestyles and expectations. So today I ask that the men of Alaska stand up and lead our young men by example. Show them how to live a violence-free life, and a respectful life.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.