Choose Respect event planned
Awareness of abuse and violence is the goal
Heidi Zemach | For the LOG
The Seward Ministerial Alliance holds the Choose Respect banner, leading last year’s march from the Alaska SeaLife Center, a short way along the Iditarod Historic Sled Dog Trail.
SeaView Community Services Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program is spearheading a public event in Seward to draw attention to the issue of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence in Alaska, and to show support for the survivors. A short rally will take place March 29 at noon in front of the Alaska SeaLife Center, followed by a march to the covered pavilion and a potluck. This is the second Choose Respect event in Seward, but just one of approximately 114 taking place statewide. Last year more than 100 people participated, including community health and service providers, religious leaders, the Spring Creek Correctional Center leadership, and Spring Creek employees. They said many of the inmates there have a history of sexual abuse, and went on to abuse others and commit other crimes later in life. As an added incentive, Sam Edwards, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections will be in attendance this year.
Some chilling statistics collected by the various state agencies involved in dealing with the issues are: Nearly 60 percent of Alaska women have been either sexually assaulted or have experienced physical violence in their lifetime. The crime is not limited to women, however. Ten percent of the rape victims seen by STAR in Anchorage are men, and 30 percent of the children seen at the child advocacy centers are boys. Alaska State Troopers responded to nearly 5,000 reports of sexual abuse of minors in the past decade. They responded to, or investigated 35,800 domestic violence calls. A child was present in 43 percent of the assaults reported. From 2006-09, Alaska’s rate of forcible rape was 2.6 times higher than the national average.
A look back over the past few weeks of City of Seward police journals and Alaska State Trooper dispatches, and find regular 911 calls for help from area victims or their neighbors attesting to the fact that these are frequent crimes in the Seward area, too.
In 2011, SeaView’s DVSA program recorded 65 open domestic violence files. There have been eight new cases opened, or re-opened so far in less than the first three months of this year. These are just cases which have been brought to the service agency because someone sought their help, although a majority of these crimes are largely under-reported.
The idea of the Choose Respect event is to bring these issues out into the open, to encourage people to help their co-workers, friends and family members deal with situations that occur, and acknowledge that there is problem in the community. The Choose Respect events are planned at a local level, allowing local autonomy in the choice of speakers and participants, but they are sponsored, and given organizational assistance by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell’s office, which provides speakers for some of the events, handout materials, suggestions for signs, and even talking points that a speaker might use. In that way the events are not so much a grassroots call for change as an orchestrated demonstration of support for its principles.
“I think that the biggest problem here in Seward is the lack of awareness and education surrounding domestic violence, but I also think it is the same problem across the state,” said Nora Hartmann, SeaView’s new DVSA coordinator. “There’s a misnomer that domestic violence is caused by drug or alcohol abuse, or socio-economic status, or employment levels. The reality is that domestic violence is a form of power and control, and that’s what the perpetrators of domestic violence seek to gain.”
Hartmann has held the position at SeaView since December, replacing former DVSA coordinator Lou Dotson, who left the post in August. But the program is now fully up and running, and people to whom she introduced herself to at a Valentine’s Day bake sale at the supermarket seem pleased to see her there, Hartmann said. They not only bought baked goods, but some came up and donated money to help out without buying anything.
The DVSA program provides crisis intervention, immediate safety for victims/children; transportation to safety, safe home or shelters; referral services; advocacy with law enforcement, medical or judicial systems; a 24-hour crisis hot line; women’s support group; men’s support group; short and long-term counseling, education/outreach. SeaView also is currently sponsoring a 3-day self-defense workshop at APEX Gym.
Hartmann has heard good things about last year’s Choose Respect event, and would like to be able to build upon that experience; “I really hope people come out for it this year because I’d love for the turnout to be the same, if not bigger.”
One positive step forward that took place late last year was the opening of the Seward Advocacy Center on Third Avenue, on the ground floor of the Orca Building. It closed a gap that this town has had in child services by offering a safe, child-friendly environment for child victims of sexual assault or abuse to talk about what happened to them in a single sitting, which is videotaped. The interview process brings together child protection teams who may be involved in referring the case, prosecuting the case, or assisting the children and family members through the process. They are able to meet together and listen to the interview from within the privacy of a separate room, as the child talks to a trained child-forensic expert in a sensitive, non-leading way that is geared to minimize the amount of trauma the child suffers from discussing it, while garnering evidence that will hold up in court.
Alaska consistently has one of top five rates of child abuse in the United States, according to the Child Welfare League of America. For every 1,000 children in Alaska, 42.2 were victims of abuse, or approximately 8,000 children in Alaska have been physically or sexually abused, that organization states.