As governor, I have a rare privilege of meeting many wonderful Alaskans from across the state. I am moved, time and again, by their goodness, neighborliness and love of God and family.
I am heartened that Alaska Family Services and the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman have put together a fine series on Valley men who are standing up to speak the truth about domestic violence and sexual assault, and to serve as role models. It does not surprise me that the Valley would take such a strong lead in this effort.
Standing up to take down domestic violence and sexual assault is not easy. It takes courage to speak out. Yet we all must hold ourselves and other Alaskans to a higher standard, one that creates safe homes and strong families.
It takes just one person, in one family, in one generation, to turn the tide from violence to respect. That’s why I am calling on individual Alaskans to be that person, to choose respect.
Our next generation depends on us. Alaska’s children — our boys and our girls — are learning from the world around them all the time. In fact, we know that children learn continuously and voraciously.
So when they see men degrading women or treating children badly, our young people they think that is how the world works. We must not impart that lesson of degradation and pretend the outcome will be magically better than the present, where nearly 60 percent of Alaska women report being assaulted by an intimate partner, sexually abused or raped.
Our Choose Respect Initiative, which began in 2009, has grown from an initial 18 communities to more than 120 Alaska villages, towns and cities. We will march again this year on March 28, and I invite you to join us.
The strong showing of support for the Choose Respect Initiative tells me that Alaskans realize the time has come to squarely face our biggest problem. It’s our moment to reverse the course of our epidemic. We must seize the day together.
I have introduced historic legislation to better protect Alaskans and have initiated legislative funding of more prevention, intervention and protective services for survivors. Justice will be served, and perpetrators will pay a heavy price for abusing women, men and children in our state.
We’ve doubled the number of Village Public Safety officers and expanded Alaska State Troopers support. This year, I propose adding another 15 troopers to the Railbelt communities. We’ve increased our support for shelters and are working with communities to adopt primary prevention programs, which include teaching children so they grow up with new role models and expectations.
Two examples of youth-oriented programs are Coaching Boys Into Men for high school boys, and Girls on the Run for third- to fifth-grade girls. Both seize upon natural opportunities that caring adults like coaches have with children to impress upon them the worth and dignity of all people.
If you are a coach of a youth sports team, I recommend studying the concepts of these programs and incorporating them into your team-building work. My administration, with the hard work of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, has initiated training across Alaska for coaches who wish to adopt the Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum. The council also is working on expanding Girls on the Run across Alaska.
The fact that our sons and daughters are impacted by what they witness has profound implications for our state. The adverse childhood experiences brought on by exposure to family violence can lead to depression, weight problems like obesity or anorexia, self-destructive habits, drug and alcohol abuse, and a range of harmful behaviors, including perpetuating violence on friends and family.
Providing a safe and loving home is the obvious first step. Being courageous and speaking up is another necessary step. Silence only condones and leads to more violence.
For victims and survivors, the most important step of all is the first one: safely seeking or asking for help. This requires a lot of courage. It is important that all Alaskans know there are support organizations that are well qualified to help those who have been harmed or who are suffering at the hands of a family member.
If you, or someone you know, needs help to escape an abuser, contact the Alaska Family Services crisis line at 746-4080 or (866) 746-4080.
Sean Parnell is governor of Alaska.