News-Miner opinion: Former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell started the Choose Respect campaign in 2009 to tackle what he described as the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault. Alaska at the time had the highest sexual assault rate in the nation at about 2.5 times higher than the national average. The state had a rate of child sexual assault six times the national average.
“The time to tackle this issue is long overdue,” the governor said then in announcing the new program.
What Gov. Parnell envisioned was a 10-year effort, one that would include three components: keeping convicted abusers in jail, providing shelter and legal aid to victims, and beginning a public education campaign. Plea agreements, according to one news account, would no longer be allowed to include a term allowing a person to avoid being listed on the state’s sex offender registry.
The governor’s program built on an effort from the prior year by the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which together created the Real Alaska Men Choose Respect campaign.
The Choose Respect campaign started by Gov. Parnell led to supportive rallies across the state. Within five years, more than 170 Alaska communities had participated in marches, rallies, and community events, according to the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Rallies have been held in Fairbanks regularly and in other Interior Alaska communities.
It’s been nearly eight years since the Choose Respect campaign began. There’s been progress, but more needs to be done.
Progress can be seen in the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey conducted by the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The survey, released in February 2016, contained these positive findings:
• In 2010, 12 in 100 women had experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both in Alaska during the previous year. By 2015, that number dropped to 8 in 100.
• Intimate-partner violence decreased by 32 percent.
• Sexual violence decreased by 33 percent.
• 21,401 adult women in Alaska experienced intimate-partner violence, sexual violence or both in the past year.
• Half of adult women in Alaska have experienced violence in their lifetime.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is apparent in the stories reported regularly in the Daily News-Miner about sexual assault and domestic violence. One story alone at the end of July carried the headline “Four Interior Alaska men indicted in sex abuse cases.”
A resolution debated in the Alaska Legislature earlier this year noted that “despite tremendous progress, Alaska still has the highest rates of sexual violence in the nation” and that “the state currently has one of the five highest rates of child abuse in the United States.” It stated that “2,126 children were evaluated by child advocacy centers in the state for possible sexual abuse” in 2016 and that “1,625 adult victims of sexual assault sought services at rape crisis centers in the state” that year.
The drive to end sexual assault and domestic violence is a continual battle. Despite the progress shown in the UAA Justice Center survey, Alaska still has far too many victims.
Yes, Alaska has a budget problem. We’ve also got a sexual assault and domestic violence problem that we and our state’s elected officials should not forget.