Alaskans, we lead the nation in sexual assault and things need to change now. This is not about Republicans and Democrats. This is not about liberals and conservatives. This is about us. This is about all of us. This is about all Alaskans. We should all be united against sexual abuse and sexual assault. It’s time to turn back the tide.
I just relocated back to Juneau from Sitka and the first big people event we went to when we moved back was the Women’s March. Women were there marching for every issue women face.
We marched with our friends for missing and murdered indigenous women. We marched because we had faced moments in our life where we were almost missing and murdered indigenous women ourselves. We marched for women who didn’t survive those moments. We marched for Ashley, Mackenzie, Sheryl, Shandelle, Adrienne, Sophie and many more. We marched for change.
We understand that marching isn’t the only thing we can do. It does help to bring visibility to an issue and put faces to those issues. It helps people to network with each other and to listen to each other’s stories. First Alaskans Magazine just released its latest issue devoted to missing and murdered indigenous women. We highly recommend picking up a copy and setting aside some time to read it. It won’t be easy, but it contains many important stories that need to be told on this subject. Stories that need to be heard.
“The more we share our histories, the more others will feel confident to share theirs. The more who know, the harder it gets to keep us quiet. The more we know, the more help we will have to fix this. The more who know, the more support will become available. We need to shift the balance in our favor and create a new path for our future generations,” stated Tia Wakole, author of “Starting a Fire: Bringing Light to the Dark,” and quoted by reporter Shady Grove Oliver in the article, which first appeared in the Arctic Sounder.
Complicated problems take complicated solutions.
Listening to stories and/or telling your own story is just the beginning. Many of us don’t feel safe enough to tell our story publicly. I have never publicly named the men who sexually abused me in my childhood or as an adult. I belong to that generation of Alaskans who learned to keep those stories private. I’m not allotted enough words in these articles to list all of the reasons why women and men don’t come forward about their abuse. Alaskans, we need to make it safe for people to come forward when they experience sexual abuse and sexual assault.
When a man like Justin Schneider can hurt a woman like he did and leave evidence behind, then serve no jail time and just get house arrest, something is seriously wrong with our laws and judicial system in Alaska. Jan. 25, 2019, a woman was raped in the J.C. Penney parking garage in Anchorage where video cameras showed the woman being attacked and raped by a stranger. The man was apprehended and admitted to it. The Anchorage Police Department originally arrested the man on charges of first-degree sexual assault and second degree sexual assault. The Anchorage District Attorney’s office has changed those charges to attempted first-degree sexual assault and second-degree sexual assault. Attempted.
These are only two examples of many that create a society in Alaska in which people who survive sexual abuse and sexual assault do not feel safe to come forward.
Something is wrong with our system and it needs to change now. We can’t just vote out every judge one at a time and case by case that doesn’t go well. With the high rates of sexual abuse and assault in Alaska, our courts and police are overburdened and underfunded to deal with them all. Do you know that sex offenders sued the state of Alaska over the sex offender list and won the case? On July 25, 2008 the Alaska Supreme Court decided that anyone who committed their crime before 1994 doesn’t have to register. Did you know that Alaska is fourth in the nation for missing and murdered indigenous women? Facing the issues of sexual assault and abuse in Alaska is a seriously complicated issue.
At the same time as giving victims of sexual abuse and assault safe places to tell their story, we have to have a legal system that supports the victims better. There needs to be better training of law enforcement. There needs to be funding for more law enforcement. There need to be harsher laws for people who commit sexual assault and sexual abuse. A majority of Alaskans believe that house arrest for sexual assault is not a sentence that fits the crime. We now have a governor who ran on a platform of public safety and crime prevention. This last week he proposed cutting $3million from the Village Public Safety Officers Program. While there can be many critiques of the VPSO program, cutting funding is not the solution.
I wish I had the solution. I don’t. I just know that we have to speak up more. I know that we are not doing enough and we have to do more. I know that we have to actively work on the problems harder. I know that we have to come together as a state to address this.
We have to hold our lawmakers accountable. We have to hold our police officers accountable. We have to hold our community members accountable. We have to hold our governor accountable. We have to be accountable. We are the solutions together. We can’t just talk. We have to change laws. We have to have funding for programs and people who are already working on this issue. We have to have better data so that we can fully understand the complex issues. It is time to turn the tide in Alaska on sexual assault and sexual abuse.
The time to change is now. It’s time to turn back the tide.
• Vivian Mork Yéilk’ writes the Planet Alaska column with her mother, Vivian Faith Prescott. Planet Alaska publishes every other week in the Capital City Weekly. This column represents the view of the author.
State of Alaska Office of Victim’ Rights
Taylor E. Winston, Director
1007 W. Third Ave., Suite 205
Anchorage, AK 99501-1936
Toll-free Nationwide: 844-754-3460
Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Hotline: 1-800-799-safe (7233)
Information about Alaska’s shelters and crisis centers to aid men, women, and children.
Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies
Sitkans Against Family Violence
Sitka, Kake, Angoon
Report child abuse and neglect
Standing Together Against Rape
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Database
Submit women’s names and information
National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
Information about MMIW, a toolkit for communities who are missing women
Sexual Assault Prevention
Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault – Main Phone: 586-3650 www.andvsa.org
Tia Wakole’s Book, “Starting a Fire: Bringing Light to the Dark.” You can request a copy at firstname.lastname@example.org
In Juneau, First Alaskans Magazine’s issue devoted to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is available at Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Gift Shop
• Vivian Mork Yéilk’ writes the Planet Alaska column with her mother, Vivian Faith Prescott. Planet Alaska publishes every other week in the Capital City Weekly.