In the May 23 edition of the New York Times there is an article about unchecked rape and domestic violence against Native American women. It highlights the staggering number of unprosecuted rapes in Emmonak, Alaska. There is no recourse for these women: no effective law enforcement, no prosecutions, no penalties. Rapists get a free ride.
Despite the new programs and publicity about these issues, what measurable progress has been made in the past few years? Alaska still has the worse rate of rape, domestic violence and all forms of sexual assault of any state in the nation. Nothing changes. The “Choose Respect” campaign is as much of a joke as Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” plan for reducing drug abuse.
Why doesn’t funding for increased law enforcement, prosecution of offenders and prevention programs get off the “we don’t really care that much” legislative priority funding list? And the governor? He says he is against domestic violence so why can’t he put his money where his mouth is? How about analyzing each area of need, Gov. Sean Parnell, and then supporting full funding and programs for each?
And how should money be spent? Well, first to law enforcement so that women in the villages are protected from repeated rapes and retaliation; their rapists and abusers prosecuted. It is not easy to get good law enforcement in the villages. In 1981, I flew to Emmonak with a state trooper/pilot who made a terrific but what seemed a futile effort to train the village’s slovenly and uninterested VPSO on law enforcement procedures. As evidenced by the New York Times article, in 30 years, nothing has changed. Village enforcement officers need better oversight, training and follow-up. That means more state troopers to do that.
We also need dedicated prosecutors who only handle crimes against women and who receive training to understand how victims react, the psychological impact, the skepticism of some jury members and most of all, public apathy. A few years ago, I sat on a jury where the defendant was accused of raping two underage girls, in foster care. There was no expert to explain why the young women reacted to their assaults they way they did. It seemed to me that the prosecutor didn’t know how to present his case and after we were secluded for deliberations, many jury members had difficulty understanding the indictments and some male jurors automatically assumed the girls were lying. Only me and another juror were holdouts, otherwise the defendant would have been completely exonerated. Those young women were wronged by the criminal justice system. They are not alone.
Does anyone notice the absence of prosecutions (at least in the news) for crimes against women? Does anyone really care or are we all so inured to the daily recitation of these crimes in the Empire that they no longer produce any reaction but a shrug?
That brings me to the victims. Most Fridays I cook dinner for the residents at the AWARE shelter as a volunteer. Last week there were nearly 40 women and children crowding in there for safety. The shelter isn’t a large place, when it is full, several people sleep in the same room. The facility is old and in need of repair. It houses victims of rape and domestic violence from several other towns and villages that don’t have shelters. They arrive with little or nothing in terms of money or possessions; most do not have jobs or a place to live. They suffer physically and emotionally and, of course, so do their children. The shelter needs money and its residents need homes, jobs, safety, justice and most of all your support.
As Juneauites you are known as being intelligent, well educated and well intentioned. We can work to change this state’s dismal domestic violence and rape statistics. All of us can speak up and write our lawmakers. Each one of us can donate money and time. Domestic violence and rape in Alaska is disgrace that sullies all of us. We must work relentlessly together at all levels, within our neighborhoods, our communities and our government to face this challenge and conquer it. It can’t be done without you. What will you do?
By the way, in a follow-up article May 24, the New York Times stated that the Emmonak Women’s shelter was closing due to lack of funds.
• Judson is a Juneau resident who moved to Alaska in 1955, was an employee of Public Safety during that visit to Emmonak and volunteers at the AWARE shelter.