Alaska editorial: Choose respect

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

By beginning a campaign against domestic and sexual violence in Alaska, Gov. Sean Parnell may be doing more to combat it than any of his legislation will. There's no question that those who abuse spouses or children sexually and violently must face swift prosecution and sure justice. To that end the governor has proposed legislation for tougher sentencing for those convicted and tougher bail laws for those accused.

But even more ambitious is the governor's attempt to change attitudes and shatter silence, to raise that "hue and cry" he wrote of in a Compass piece in the Anchorage Daily News in March.

He called on Alaskans not to stand by when they see or suspect domestic violence, to make the social norm that it is everyone's business to report and stop such acts, that it's time to say no more to Alaska's sorry ranking among the leaders in domestic violence and sexual assault.

We've heard such calls before, from many quarters. From victims, from prosecutors, from police, from advocates. The calls ring true, but ring louder when the governor holds forth, because as Alaska's highest elected official his call echoes throughout the state.

Legislation is a powerful tool. Resolute enforcement of the law is a must - it's good to see Attorney General Dan Sullivan in the forefront of the governor's campaign.

But what the governor is trying to do is change hearts and minds. To change the culture, as the more current phrase goes. "Choose respect" is the theme of his campaign. And that is as much about self-respect as about respect for spouses, partners, children and everyone else around you.

Both men and women are guilty of domestic violence and sexual assault. But most of the perpetrators are men.

Our violence and assault stats will plunge when Alaska men in every corner and every culture in the state think about what it means to truly be a man. Not a controller, but a partner and someone to trust. Capable of anger, oh yes. But just as capable of controlling that anger, knowing that there are lines a man does not cross without becoming much less than a man.

Some of us of the male persuasion can remember growing up with the lesson that you simply did not hit women, that any man who hit women or children or sexually violated them could be fairly described with words of contempt that you don't put in a family newspaper.

That's a useful concept but too simplistic to be an answer. Cycles of violence and abuse seem to be self-perpetuating. Alcohol and drug abuse creates more violators and victims, who turn to more alcohol and drugs. We live in a popular culture that serves up conflicting messages about manhood and violence. Justice sometimes goes begging; both victims and violators sometimes struggle to find help.

The call for a "hue and cry" and tough enforcement is good - and needs its match in support for victims, rebuilding families and treatment programs for alcohol and drug abusers.

This is a campaign to join on more than one front. But peace and respect still depend on individual decisions.

"Choose respect" is a good step toward a more peaceful, stronger and healthier Alaska.

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