Shocking. Sobering. Disgusting. These are just a few of the words that come to our minds when reading the news more than half of Juneau’s women have been victims of domestic or sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes.
The numbers become even more appalling the deeper one goes. One of eight women in Juneau have been assaulted — sexually, by an intimate partner — within the last year. Nearly half have been physically brutalized during their lives, and make no mistake, the study found this was true brutality. Hitting. Kicking. Burning. Shoving. Thirty-five percent of Juneau women have endured a sexual assault — a polite term for violence that doesn’t always meet the textbook definition of rape, but causes physical and psychological harm that’s just as awful. Combined, those last two statistics reveal a level of overlap that shows far too many women in the capital city are suffering savagery on two fronts — though where one ends and another begins is hard to say.
This is an epidemic across the state and the nation. The other Alaska cities surveyed in the report from the University of Alaska Anchorage revealed numbers lower than Juneau’s but nearly as revolting. Fifty-two percent of Bristol Bay women reported at least one incident of intimate partner or sexual violence. In Anchorage, the number was 51 percent, Fairbanks 45 percent. One Kansas county briefly stopped filing misdemeanor domestic abuse cases because the sheer number of them was straining an already tight budget. Fortunately, the Shawnee County District Attorney changed his mind, according to a report by Reuters, but the point remains: domestic and sexual abuse are statewide and nationwide problems with not just extensive physical and emotional costs, but financial ones as well.
Like other issues, the problems Juneau is facing when it comes to barbarity against women are best addressed before they manifest themselves in our emergency rooms and our courtrooms. Culturally, domestic abuse and sexual violence are, on the surface, looked at with scorn. However, the numbers indicate far too many people in Juneau either believe it’s OK, or not that serious. Even victims may not have come fully to grips with how unacceptable the horrors they’ve suffered truly are. The UAA report, comprehensive in its scope, states the amount of actual violence is greater than that reported to law enforcement. As a society, we must come to the unanimous conclusion domestic and sexual violence are both morally wrong and criminally wrong.
It seems a tall order, but such cultural shifts have been achieved before. Smoking was an activity nearly half of America’s population partook of at one point, wherever and whenever they wanted. However, as the health risks and financial costs of smoking became widely known, than number was down to 1 person in 5 and the activity became limited to a private one. Drunken driving has similarly gone from being viewed as a harmless indiscretion to now being seen as the life-threatening recklessness it is.
How, then, do we move the needles of perception and understanding in a similar fashion when it comes to domestic and sexual violence? Gov. Sean Parnell’s “Choose Respect” initiative is a good start. The program takes on the problem on three fronts: increasing law enforcement and prosecution efforts, treating and supporting survivors, and, perhaps most importantly, beefing up prevention and education efforts that aim to prevent issues before they begin. Another avenue that shows promise is AWARE’s “Girls on the Run” campaign. The public may know this campaign by its final yearly event, a 5K race featuring 150-200 girls. However, that fun run is just the culmination of a 12-week, 24-session curriculum of activities that aims to instill values of self-esteem and healthy living in girls ages 8-14. Hopefully, girls that participate in the program will leave it knowing abuse and violence are not elements of healthy relationships. We’re hopeful the UAA report will encourage the growth of those programs, and spawn new ones as well.
If you find yourself in need of help to escape domestic violence or sexual assault, or know someone who may be suffering through these horrors, please call Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies, or AWARE, at 586-1090. This organization can also provide aid to men and children. And, of course, calling 911 is an option if the need for help is immediate.
Mayor Bruce Botelho said the fact 55 percent of females in the capital city have suffered brutality at some point in their lives “should be shocking to the conscience of the community,” a fact we wholeheartedly agree with. Oftentimes, we as a society have the unfortunate habit of waiting for a shocking event to occur before taking definite action against a problem that has been a long time coming. It’s awful we as a community have let the problem get to this point. Let’s use this study to shock us into action, instead of waiting for the awful event this report tells us is coming.