I read with interest that Gov. Mike Dunleavy restored some of the money the Legislature appropriated to Alaska Legal Services Corp. upon the condition the appropriation be used to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
I have also read Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson touting a “new initiative” that permits attorneys employed by the Department of Law to assist victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. This is to be done via “hosting” quarterly clinics, encouraging department lawyers to staff monthly a victim hotline and to allow department attorneys a few hours to provide pro bono services to sexual assault and domestic violence victims.
These provisions may sound good and they may feel good, but they are nearly meaningless; they are too little, too late. For if Kevin Clarkson had ever represented a sexual assault or domestic violence victim in a protective proceeding; ever represented one in a divorce, separation or dissolution; ever criminally prosecuted a sexual assault or domestic violence offender; ever defended a victim charged with perpetrating a crime upon his or her offender; or ever tried to protect child victims, Clarkson would well know that sexual assault and domestic violence cases consume far more time than an afternoon quarterly clinic or monthly hotline phone call and even more hours than the paltry few hours granted to state lawyers for pro bono work.
If Attorney General Clarkson and his boss, Gov. Dunleavy, are serious about mitigating the high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska, I urge the following:
1. Start at the beginning. Provide specific training to law enforcement on the investigation of sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Hire sufficient number of officers and support staff to conduct decent investigations.
2. Provide specific training to prosecutors regarding methods and techniques to prosecute these cases. Hire an adequate number and dedicate prosecutors, as well as necessary support staff, so there is sufficient time and resources to take these cases to trial.
3. Properly fund the Alaska Court System so it remains open five days a week with the ability to hold hearings and trials all day, every day.
4. Adequately fund the Public Defender Agency. To ensure convictions stand, a robust defense must occur.
5. Provide sufficient resources to Alaska Legal Services Corp. to assist indigent victims.
6. Consider the children who are victimized simply by living in environments rich with sexual assault and domestic violence. The system needs to break the cycle of violence while protecting and nourishing children.
7. Fairly and fully fund child advocacy centers, shelters, child protection, mental health, and offender services.
For decades in Alaska we have wrung our hands, lamented and bragged about the high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska. Reportedly it is the highest in the nation, yet little has changed and we wonder why. The answer is easy: We know what to do, and we know how to do it. But we refuse. We continue to elect legislators who lack the political will. We refuse to, as my father used to say, “put your money where your mouth is.”
Alaska willfully chooses to spend its resources elsewhere. Alaska refuses to fund the panoply of staff, support, training and financial, family, victim and offender services necessary to reduce the violence.
Measures such as hosting a quarterly seminar, staffing a hotline once a month or providing a few pro bono hours are not likely to even develop attorney competence in the field of sexual assault and domestic violence let alone provide meaningful assistance to families and victims. The measures will not even amount to the proverbial drop in the bucket.
While Attorney General Clarkson may be commended for his interest in ameliorating sexual assault and domestic violence, his boss, Gov. Dunleavy, and the Legislature must provide the necessary resources to do so. “Right-sizing” or cutting government will do little to reduce Alaska’s legacy of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Gayle Garrigues is a retired Alaska state prosecutor who spent much of her career working in the Fairbanks District Attorney’s Office. She is one of the founders of the Fairbanks Sexual Assault Response Team and was an early developer of Stevie’s Place, the Fairbanks child advocacy center