Alaska editorial: Stop the pain, once and for all

Posted: Friday, December 18, 2009

There are few acts more reprehensible or cowardly than when a person kicks, hits, punches or slaps another person who can't defend him or herself. Darker still is when the violence happens within what was supposed to be a secure, respectful and loving relationship.

And yet, Alaska leads the nation in sexual assault and domestic violence. We have for many years.

That's simply wrong. It needs to stop.

That's why we're encouraged by Gov. Sean Parnell's announcement earlier this month of a major comprehensive campaign to reduce the level of violence significantly in the next decade.

"We'll make it intolerable, unacceptable and the ramifications for those committing these crimes against Alaskans, unbearable," Parnell said.

In short, what the governor is proposing is an endeavor the likes of which we haven't seen since the intense campaign to combat drunk driving began 25 years ago.

This is not to say that previous efforts to increase penalties were wasted efforts. But the pervasiveness of this behavior in Alaska seems resistant to criminal justice efforts alone.

That's why the Parnell Administration is proposing a broad-based, multifaceted approach designed to change attitudes and behavior, in addition to further increasing penalties.

In part, the initiative calls for: increasing the number of Village Public Safety Officers by 15 in the next 10 years; increasing free legal services for victims; increasing funding for victim shelters; creating a position of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention coordinator in the state Department of Law to partner with state, federal, tribal and non-profit programs; developing youth leaders through community partnerships and have them help to develop primary prevention strategies; and encouraging private and religious organizations to raise awareness.

There's a lot more. And some of it will cost money. In the FY2011 budget, the administration plans to spend $75 million for the state's new crime lab, $1.6 million for the new Public Safety Officers and $1 million for housing them. The plan also calls for hiring 11 new sexual assault investigators - three with state funds and the rest with federal stimulus dollars.

But again, this campaign doesn't rely only on cops and courts. Attorney General Dan Sullivan said in an interview recently that this effort is going to require every one of us to participate in some way. The administration points to a 2006 survey that showed nearly 75 percent of Alaskans have been victimized or know a victim. More than three of four Alaska Native women stand to be physically assaulted in their lifetimes, and one in three will be sexually assaulted. And nearly 70 percent of homicides in 2008 involved domestic or sexual violence.

"That's why we're saying this is a 10-year effort," Sullivan said. "The numbers aren't going to change in just one year.

"This (campaign) has to include everybody. It's 'all hands on deck."'

We agree.

Domestic and sexual violence affects more of us that we either acknowledge or accept. It's wrong, and it's high time we put an end to it.

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