Town turns out to Choose Respect
About 50 residents of Seward joined 123 other Alaska communities holding Choose Respect events March 29 to honor the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The march, rally and potluck, sponsored by SeaView Community Services’ Domestic Violence Sexual Assault program, happened in the slushy sunshine. The Choose Respect banner was carried along Railroad Avenue by SeaView DVSA Coordinator Nora Hartmann on one side, and Paula Moseley the new Seward Child Advocacy Center’s local staffer on the other. They were followed by pastors Ron Nitz and Paul Caseman, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Sue McClure, Seward City Council member Marianna Keil, Alaska Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Sam Edwards, Spring Creek Correctional Center Superintendent Craig Turnbull and many more.
“We want to send a strong message to victims and survivors across Alaska that you’re not alone,” said Hartmann, fighting back tears of emotion during speeches at the pavilion. “To those here today, know that your presence gives victims and survivors the courage to seek safety, and lets them know that Seward cares about their health, well being and safety.”
A University of Alaska Anchorage victimization survey released last year estimated that 58 percent of adult women in Alaska, some 144,000 of them, had experienced sexual violence or intimate partner violence in their lifetime, Hartmann said. Eleven percent had experienced one of them within that same year.
She stressed the importance of stopping the cycle of violence by getting involved, asking others if they are in a safe relationship; listening closely to them; and if they are in that situation, letting them know it’s not their fault and helping them find safety.
Children need to learn the message that domestic violence is not the community norm, Hartmann said. Councilmember Keil, who has long worked in the field of domestic violence, was pleased to note that a local mother in the crowd with a baby, had brought along her two young sons.
“Sometimes when we consider the problems of child abuse, we know that they are huge and it’s easy to be overwelmed, but you need to ask yourself what you can do. We are taking the first step today by being here. Any small action you can take starts a ripple-effect,” said new Seward Child Advocacy Center’s Paula Mosely. “Your actions send a message to children that we care about you, you deserve to be safe.”
Guest speaker Sam Edwards showed a good deal of personal insight into the issue, much of which, he acknowledged, was gleaned from his wife who works with child victims of abuse and assault in Anchorage and Wasilla. “It is incredible to hear the stories she comes home with, but the sheer numbers, and the degree of violence, most would not realize just how pervasive and how bad it is,” Edwards said. He also acknowledged the stress and burnout experienced by advocates for adult victims and children, and the high turnover rate it their field. “You’ve taken on quite a load,” he said.
Edwards, and others with whom he works in corrections, often believe that once a person is behind bars the problem is resolved, he said. But what he has begun to realize now, with his wife working in child advocacy, is that only a part of the problem is. When a family’s main provider is removed, the wife and children continue to have a very difficult time just surviving. “The real process, it destroys families and communities, and we need to let people be aware that it’s not OK.”
Edwards also is aware that when children are abused, they are more likely to abuse other children, or to abuse others as adults. “That is the cycle that we have to break,” he said. He stressed the importance of watching those who you think may be abusing, and letting them know that you are aware of what they are doing, and will be watching them. No one wants others to know what they are doing, so by openly acknowledging that you are paying attention, you may help prevent the abuse, Edwards said.
Resurrection Lutheran Church Pastor Ron Nitz told The LOG he’s sorry he hasn’t been able to identify and help more people dealing with abusive family situations. He’s worried they might shy away from seeking help from churches because they fear that pastors will judge them. “The church has unfortunately not always been in the forefront of being helpful to people in those kinds of situations,” Nitz said, adding; “We want people to know we support and care about individuals, and if the relationship is bad, it needs to end.”
Paul Caseman, Pastor of the Seward United Methodist Church, said victims of domestic violence or abuse often are ashamed of their own family situation, and that leads them to isolate themselves rather than to seek help. Both pastors said they try to address these issues in their weekly sermons, but also invite individuals to speak with them privately.