Domestic violence and sexual assault: courage to act

A survey by the University of Alaska provides some startling facts: More than 47 percent of Juneau women have been subjected to domestic violence or the serious threat of violence in their lifetime.

To 5,544 Juneau women, it’s not a statistical occurrence, but a terrifying reality. It doesn’t stop there: More than 35 percent of Juneau women (exceeding 4,100) have been sexually assaulted.

The women who answered the Alaska Victimization Survey are survivors, and their participation honored the memory of those who, due to fear and violence, were not able to find their voice. I sincerely thank these Juneau respondents for recounting experiences no one should be subjected to, so that we all may understand the extent of these crimes in our community. That took courage.

For victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, the choice of leaving a violent relationship or calling the police to report the assault are anything but easy. It requires getting others involved and overcoming fear, embarrassment, self-doubt and shame. It may mean upheaval in families, as secret, horrific crimes are brought to light. And sometimes, choices and options are limited or nonexistent.

Thousands of victims across Alaska are surviving this very moment on the hope they’ll be spared another violent attack. Turning to family and friends, they may be met with judgment and blame.

Yet without support from others, without action or intervention, victims’ lives often do not improve. Too often, they end up dead.

It will take all of us, in every community, to end this epidemic. We 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.

On March 29, Juneau residents can join with others in a statewide act of prevention and intervention — a “Choose Respect” rally or march. This annual event, now 119 Alaskan communities strong, offers hope and healing to people trapped by violent relationships, and changes the social norms of our state.

After last year’s “Choose Respect” rally, I heard from many survivors. They said seeing their neighbors holding up signs against domestic violence and sexual assault helped them take concrete steps toward safety and healing. Others found the courage to speak publicly about the harm inflicted upon them.

Please do not underestimate the positive impact you have on fellow Alaskans by simply showing up at a “Choose Respect” event.

We can also lend our courage by being more aware of those around us, and by learning the signals of possible physical or sexual abuse. What’s more, by exercising our courage daily, we will be ready when we encounter someone who is being harmed. We won’t turn away. We will offer help or call for help.

In Juneau, help is at hand at the AWARE Shelter. If a violent crime is in progress and you cannot safely intervene, please call 911.

Resources on signs and symptoms of abuse and information about how to get involved are found at the “Choose Respect” website: chooserespect.alaska.gov.

The problem is closer than you think, but so is the solution: You are key. Please join us at noon on March 29; we start at the steps of the Capitol and end up at Marine Park.

Be one of thousands of courageous Alaskans choosing respect for their families, friends and community.

• Sean Parnell is the governor of Alaska.

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