Community perspective

Nearly 50 percent of Fairbanks women have been the victims of domestic violence or the serious threat of domestic violence. Nearly one in three women in the Golden Heart City have been sexually assaulted.

This epidemic problem, documented in painstaking detail by the University of Alaska Justice Center’s Alaska Victimization Survey, makes for difficult reading.

But the reality is domestic violence and sexual assault have continued, generation after generation, in spite of the efforts of many organizations that have made it their mission to end this reign of terror.

To be a healthy state, we all need to step up and help. We start by shining light on what has been too long ignored, and demanding respect for all Alaskans. All Alaskans are valued.

How often have we asked ourselves, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” or “Why didn’t she call the police?”

These choices are anything but easy. They require getting others involved and overcoming fear, embarrassment, self-doubt and shame. The decision to leave or report leads to upheaval in families as secret, horrific crimes are brought to light. Sometimes, it’s difficult to see safe alternatives.

Thousands of victims across Alaska survive on the hope they’ll be spared another violent attack. Turning to family and friends, they may be met with criticism and blame.

Yet without support from others, without action or intervention, victims’ lives often do not improve. Too often, they end up dead.

This is where you and I can make a difference. We can lend our courage to victims and survivors by taking a visible and vocal stand for what we want as a social norm: Respect for all.

On March 29, join me and others across Alaska during a statewide act of prevention and intervention — a “Choose Respect” rally. In Fairbanks, we’ll meet in the Golden Heart Plaza at noon.

After last year’s “Choose Respect” rally, I heard from many survivors. They said seeing their neighbors holding up signs against domestic violence and sexual assault helped them take concrete steps toward safety and healing. Others found the courage to speak publicly about the harm inflicted upon them, and their survival.

As a state, we’re increasing law enforcement efforts in this arena, but never underestimate the positive impact you have on fellow Alaskans by simply showing up at a “Choose Respect” event; 119 Alaska communities are taking part this year.

We also can lend our courage by being more aware of those around us, and by learning the signals of possible physical or sexual abuse. What’s more, by exercising our courage daily, we will be ready when we encounter someone who is being harmed. We won’t turn away. We will offer help or call for help.

In Fairbanks, help is at hand at the Alaska Interior Center for Nonviolent Living. If a violent crime is in progress, and you cannot safely intervene, please call 911.

Resources on signs and symptoms of abuse and information about how to get involved can be found at the “Choose Respect” website: chooserespect.alaska.gov.

The problem is closer than you think, but so is the solution. You are key. Be one of thousands of courageous Alaskans choosing respect for their families, friends and community.

Sean Parnell became governor of Alaska in 2009 and was elected in 2010.