My Turn: Together, we stand for respect

Respect is a traditional value at the core of nearly every ethnic and religious group; a cherished principle that has stood the test of time.

As important as respect is in creating safe homes and strong families, domestic violence and sexual assault have the opposite effect, destroying both families and communities.

These crimes are most damaging at the personal level, where they leave emotional and physical scars that often last a lifetime.

Here in Alaska, we see the destruction firsthand — but we’re doing something about it. Across the state, Alaskans are standing up, shining a light, and making change a reality.

On March 27, I am joining thousands of Alaskans in more than 160 communities to stand up on behalf of victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I hope you’ll join us.

In Juneau, Alaskans will gather at the Capitol building for a march to Marine Park. In other communities there will be marches, rallies, and potluck meals. You can locate your nearest event at ChooseRespect.alaska.gov.

Alaskans will raise high the banner of respect, lending courage to those who need it, and empowering fellow Alaskans to speak out. Courageous Alaskans are speaking out about things that have happened to them, and by doing so, are giving courage to those who have held close their own injuries at the hands of others who should have protected them.

This past year, I read an essay that an Alaska teenager posted on her blog about the abuse she had suffered as a child:

“... None of the adults knew why we ran past his room as fast as we could or didn’t want to be left with him babysitting us. It seemed like each of us knew what was going on, but we never talked about our little secret. Finally, one day, I found the courage to tell my mom, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

“He was convicted and spent a few years in jail and in a sexual abuse treatment center to get help. It turns out, he was abused himself. But the cycle of abuse has stopped with me and my family. We chose to fight it, talk about it, and use it to help as many people as we can.

“I know many, many of you have had experience with this, and I just want to encourage you today.

“First of all, you need to know that no matter what, it isn’t your fault. You may be a victim now, but God turns victims into victory and it starts with telling someone.

“It’s terrifying to think of what can happen, but as my sister says, ‘when every answer seems like a ‘lose-lose’ situation, you just have to choose the right thing.’

“I can’t imagine where I’d be if I never said anything!”

So many truths are found in this teen’s words.

• Silence allows the abuse to continue.

• Courageously telling someone who can help is a critical first step.

• To the victims and survivors — it isn’t your fault. That shame you feel is not rightly yours.

That’s why we gather with thousands of our fellow Alaskans across the state. We will not be silent, and we will not hide things. No longer can we give this cancer of domestic violence and sexual assault power over us.

We stand to give our courage and compassion to those who need it most.

Together, we stand for respect and human dignity. We stake our claim that every Alaskan deserves to live free from fear, free from the harmful control and manipulation of others.

And so on March 27, this army of Alaskans says to the victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, “We are stepping up. We will help. As Alaskans, we ‘Choose Respect.’”

Find out more and get involved by checking the latest news at: ChooseRespect.alaska.gov.

• Sean Parnell is governor of Alaska.

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