Alaska’s junior senator will attempt to bring a statewide initiative from Alaska to the national level.
Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan spoke to the Alaska legislature on Thursday in his annual address, in which he mentioned his plan to introduce bills in Congress that would reinvigorate the “Choose Respect” public awareness campaign addressing sexual assault. The initiative was started during former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration when Sullivan worked as Attorney General.
“Working together with all of you, with members of both parties…we need to re-energize our efforts to tackle this issue,” Sullivan said in his address.
One of the main things this campaign would do at a federal level is introduce a bill that would entitle victims of sexual assault to legal representation. Currently, the constitution entitles anyone accused of a crime to legal representation. His bill would entitle victims that same right, through statute rather than constitutionally. That way if someone was charged with criminal sexual abuse, both the accuser and accused would receive representation.
“One of the best ways to help survivors of assault break the cycle is to get a lawyer. Then they’re empowered to say, get a protective order or boot the guy out of the house,” Sullivan said in an interview with the Empire.
He said when he was attorney general of Alaska, they held pro bono legal summits across the state that addressed this need. But this legislation would take that idea a step further. His bills — that he said he plans to introduce soon — would guarantee that for every sexual assault victim, be they victims of rape, stalking and/or sexual assault.
Guaranteeing legal representation is just one component of his federal campaign. Another main aspect would develop a pilot program that would allow protective orders to be served electronically. Many times, it is hard to deliver protective orders, since they have to be served in person. This initiative would make sure those orders actually do what they were intended to do, instead of allowing abusers to circumvent the law by dodging papers serving them the order.
Sullivan told a story during his speech about a young girl who called into school one day to say she couldn’t come in because she had been sexually assaulted the night before.
“I knew that sexual abuse was a huge problem in the state, but there was something in that story that broke my heart,” Sullivan said, tearing up and pausing for a moment, “and steeled my resolve to work on this issue.”
Other elements of his initiative include a national public awareness campaign that would establish Oct. 1 as “Choose Respect Day,” and direct the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women to oversee a media campaign. He said he can’t name other senators who are working on the bills with him yet, as they are still finalizing the legislation, but the group includes Democrats and Republicans.
“We have many social problems in our state, but I count domestic violence and sexual abuse to be the most pernicious,” he said in his speech, citing statistics that a quarter of Alaska’s population has experienced sexual abuse. “It saps our creative energy, and it leaves deep, permanent scars across generations. We have such tremendous potential as a state, but we simply cannot realize it if we don’t stop this — if the men of Alaska don’t stop this.”
• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2228.