Alaska captures our imagination with majestic mountains, breathtaking vistas, and rich resources. Our people are friendly, authentic, patriotic, and willing to help a neighbor in need.
But amidst our beautiful land and wonderful people, an epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault rages.
I’ve seen it in our cities and in our remote villages – in every corner of the state and in every demographic.
For women in the Last Frontier, 58 percent have experienced intimate partner or sexual violence. This statistic, and the lives it represents, is not an area we are proud to lead in.
In 2009, when I became governor, I challenged Alaskans to work together to change this harrowing reality. Alaska’s goal is to eradicate the epidemic levels of domestic violence within a decade. We intend to foster freedom from fear that will pay dividends for future generations.
In 2010, we launched the Choose Respect initiative. Choose Respect is a movement of the people, one in which we raise awareness and change the culture of silence; one in which we give collective permission to speak of the unspeakable evil among us.
We claim every child’s right to a healthy and safe childhood. We proclaim that no one – no man, woman, boy or girl – deserves abuse. It matters not what political party we belong to, or the color of our skin, our neighborhood or religion: Human dignity is a human right.
I asked Alaskans to stand up and speak for those who can’t. Alaskans then hit the streets in a modern day civil rights march.
In 2010, 18 communities hosted Choose Respect rallies. In 2011, the movement grew to more than 60 communities. By 2012, more than 120 communities stepped forward – from the Arctic Circle to the rainforests of Southeast; from the Aleutians to Anchorage.
As we mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I urge Alaskans to take a stand and to take action, protecting victims of any age from further harm.
One of the most important things each of us can do is to understand some of the habits of abusers:
• Checking a spouse or partner’s cell phone or email account without permission
• Constantly “putting down” or demeaning a spouse or partner
• Extreme jealousy, insecurity or possessiveness
• Explosive temper or episodes of rage
• Isolating a spouse or partner from family or friends
• Making false accusations
• Physically hurting a spouse or partner in any way
• Controlling behavior
While many of these behaviors are not criminal in themselves, they may be signs that violence or the threat of violence is occurring, or that violence is escalating. These are signs that help may be needed.
We also need to trust our gut. Sometimes you just know when someone is in trouble. It takes courage to acknowledge your own instincts and ask if you can help that person.
In doing so, we bind up wounds and set captives free, helping people get back what has been stolen by others, replacing despair with hope.
When people give themselves to a cause this noble, for victims and survivors, it’s meaningful. It emboldens victims and survivors to break free, and understand that living in fear and pain doesn’t have to be their “normal.”
We can carry contact information for shelters in our communities or regions. Be ready to give someone a card that has the phone numbers of safe shelters and trained advocates. This information is available at: ChooseRespect.Alaska.gov
Let’s be protectors and helpers - not just this month, but every month until we can say that domestic violence is rare, not rampant, in Alaska.
• Parnell is Alaska’s 10th governor.