October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Nearly every adult reading these words has had a first-hand experience with domestic violence. Either it has occurred somewhere in your family or in that of a neighbor or friend, or you’ve seen examples of it in the community.
Perhaps you’ve heard demeaning or belittling words being shouted next door or violent arguments that stray from a healthy disagreement. Perhaps you even grew up with it close at hand.
In America, 15 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. In Alaska, more than six percent of mothers of children under the age of three say their child has seen, firsthand, violence or physical abuse. Exposure to violence has an impact on them, and repeated exposure can cause physical and emotional problems that may last a lifetime.
The stress of these adverse childhood experiences can even lead to shorter lifespans, according to some long-term studies.
What domestic violence looks like to children is often far worse than anything a parent can imagine. Studies show that heart disease, asthma and diabetes are often made worse by stress.
What domestic violence looks like to children often means an inability to focus in school, behavioral problems, anxieties, and sleeping and eating disorders.
Although some researchers set the health-related costs of domestic violence at $750 billion per year, the cost has to be much higher, because there are some things you simply cannot quantify.
The kind of domestic violence children are exposed to takes many forms. It may be verbal or physical abuse by one parent to another. It may consist of isolating someone from social support by cutting a spouse off from family or friends, or shaming a spouse in front of others. Or it may be committing physical harm, like the twisting of an arm, shoving, pulling hair, or slapping of a face. It too often escalates and sometimes ends tragically in death.
We must not only break the silence about domestic violence, but we must end the epidemic that has overtaken our communities in Alaska.
In the past four years, funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and intervention has increased. Alaskans in more than 150 communities are now standing up for victims and survivors in our Choose Respect initiative. We continue to reach out to women to get themselves and their children to safety. We encourage them to start the healing process with caring, trained professionals - heroes in our communities who spend their lives offering hope to survivors.
I call on every Alaskan to make a commitment to become part of a great tide of action to end the epidemic of domestic violence. Let’s help victims become survivors and make sure perpetrators get caught, so they do no more harm to Alaskans.
• Sean Parnell is the governor of the state of Alaska.