Calling for an end to the epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse in Alaska, more than a hundred people gathered at the steps of the Capitol in downtown Juneau Thursday afternoon to partake in the third annual “Choose Respect” rally.
State legislators and U.S. Representative Don Young addressed the crowd before marching down Main Street, as participants carried homemade poster board signs that read “iRespect,” “Safe homes” and “I believe you.”
“This is not a partisan issue,” state Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, said, adding that Alaska has an increasing number of domestic violence-related homicides. “We must stand together to stop violence.”
State Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, asked the crowd to pause in a moment of silence for a woman who was beaten to death in the western Alaska village of Hooper Bay earlier this week. The woman’s boyfriend has since been charged with first-degree murder, according to media outlets in the region.
“Western Alaska, the area that I represent, 51 percent of women have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault,” Herron said. “... Let us not forget the reason why we’re here today. Now is the time to change these numbers.”
The march in Juneau was one of 143 “Choose Respect” rallies coordinated across the state, said the event’s emcee, Dan Sullivan, the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the former Attorney General for Alaska. Gov. Sean Parnell this year led the rally in Palmer.
Parnell launched the Choose Respect initiative in December of 2009 with three goals in mind, Sullivan said: to work toward ending the epidemic, to give strength, hope and voice to victims of abuse and to make “Choose Respect” a broad, statewide movement.
“Well, we certainly have not ended the epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska, but we knew that this was going to be a generational undertaking,” Sullivan said. “So we’re making progress, but it will take years.”
Sullivan says he hopes by addressing the issue openly and publicly, and thereby “removing it from the shadows,” it will help victims of abuse “know that they are not alone, that their friends and neighbors and communities support them and stand with them.”
According to the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, 58 percent of women in Alaska have experienced intimate partner or sexual violence; 47.6 percent have experienced intimate partner violence; and 37.1 percent have experienced sexual violence.
The same study said more than half of Juneau women have been the victims of domestic violence or sexual assault at some time in their lives, with one in eight being a victim in the last year.
At the policy level, the Choose Respect initiative strives to strengthen laws and the sentences related to domestic violence, according to its website. On Saturday, the first lady Sandy Parnell, testified before legislators for the first time, requesting they restore Parnell’s budget request for the state trooper’s sex trafficking unit.
The initiative also promotes pilot programs focused on prevention that can be replicated in villages across the state, and Fairclough said in her remarks said the governor has allocated $3 million a year for such programs.
During his turn at the lectern before the march, U.S. Rep. Young warned against the dangers of drinking and encouraged families in villages to alert their elders to abuse if it is seen.
“We’re going to have this little walk today, 100 some-odd parades, but it goes beyond that,” Young said. “It goes to the area, as I’ve said before, (of) each village. We talk about our elders, let our elders get involved. And a young one that sees it, make sure they tell the elders. Just don’t rely on the state troopers — rely on the village itself, and every community work together to stop this terrible thing that destroys a state and community. You-we can do it together. It’ll be done together. If it’s not done together, it will not happen.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.