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Choose respect, join the march

Posted: February 28, 2012 - 1:00am

Every week stories are reported in the news across Alaska showing that our state’s problem with domestic violence and sexual assault continues to demand our attention. A man in Palmer is charged with assaulting his friend’s roommate, a young barista in midtown Anchorage is abducted and is not seen for three weeks, and here in Juneau a policeman escapes conviction on allegations of sexual assault of his daughter by pleading to evidence tampering. Clearly there is more we can do to stop the cycle of violence and abuse.

Alaskans have two statewide entities that focus on lowering our unacceptably high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence and responding to their direct impacts. The Alaska Council on Domestic Violence Sexual Assault is a state agency whose vision is one day to see Alaska free from domestic and sexual violence. The Council produces statistical reports that attempt to document how big and wide the problem is, and what steps are being taken to solve it. The DVSA Dashboard (viewable online at bit.ly/AqP6Pt) tracks the problem in discrete categories including children’s exposure to violent acts, reports of harm to children and elders, and what sorts of services are being used to help victims heal and prevent further victimization.

The council supports services for Alaskans through crisis intervention, perpetrator accountability, and prevention. The first two reactive categories include victim services and batterer-accountability programs (BIPs) for perpetrators, addressing the problem after it has happened. The third category is proactive, but has fewer concrete manifestations, so there’s a lot of work to be done on the prevention side. If we can prevent at least some of these bad acts from happening in the first place, the resources to help the victims of the crimes that could not be prevented can go all that much further.

The council’s partner in combatting domestic violence and sex assaults is the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (ANDVSA) which links together individual, community-based services providers statewide. ANDVSA also marshals volunteer legal assistance for victims across Alaska, and works to spread the message about the scope of the DVSA in Alaska, and what can be done about it.

ANDVSA is at the forefront of prevention efforts, and has a multi-year strategy to foster a culture of preventing domestic violence and sexual assault before they occur. The Pathways to Prevent Domestic Violence plan calls for seven discrete steps, including making young Alaskans leaders in calling out bad behaviors early on in life. Teaching statistics about the real rates at which violence and assault occur makes it much harder to ignore the problem, and integrating prevention strategies and skills into to school curricula from kindergarten through 12th-grade ensures repetitive exposure and maximum retention which can lead to generational behavioral changes.

It was two years ago that Gov. Sean Parnell first called upon Alaskans to march in their own communities across the Great Land in support of the campaign to Choose Respect and to condemn domestic violence and sexual assault. Above and beyond merely agreeing that these are horrible scourges on our society, Choose Respect encourages us all to commit to doing something about the problem.

By paying attention to our friends and families we may be able to detect a problem that has gone unreported. By supporting a victim who feels helpless and isolated we can help another break out of the cycle of victimhood. By expressing zero tolerance for abusive and violent behavior we deter such actions, and by reporting suspected crimes to the appropriate authorities we bring perpetrators to justice. At the same time we must support those who take responsibility for their actions and support them when they commit themselves to a new life and atone for their misdeeds.

On March 29, Alaskans will march in communities large and small across the Last Frontier to voice support for victims and send a message that those who harm others will be brought to justice. In Juneau, marchers will gather at noon on the steps of the State Capitol and march down to Marine Park, while at the same time marchers will assemble in more than 100 other towns and cities: Barrow, Anaktuvuk Pass, and Point Hope in the far north; Saint Paul, Unalaska, and False Pass in the west and southwest; Wasilla and Kenai in Southcentral; and Metlakatla and Hydaburg in Southeast — these and many more venues will all join in on the same day collectively to convey the imperative that we as Alaskans will no longer stand by and let a new generation harm itself. You can join in and help make a difference.

• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.

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