Opinion: End ‘free passes’ for sexual violence

Opinion: End ‘free passes’ for sexual violence

Alaska needs meaningful policy change.

No More Free Passes was born on Sept. 19, the day Justin Schneider walked out of court a free man after accepting his “one pass” for strangling and then ejaculating on an unconscious Alaska Native woman. While the crime occurred in Anchorage, the case made waves across the state.

Before the election, we wrote in the Anchorage Daily News that we were calling on Alaskans to demand more from our judicial system. Alaskans responded overwhelmingly to this call. Our campaign was inundated by support from across the political spectrum. We received messages of support telling us to both “Drain the Swamp” and “Resist and Persist.” Staunch Trump supporters and democratic socialists alike rallied with us. The message was clear: The public of all persuasions and walks of life were fed up with the failure of the judicial system. Alaskans are tired of watching violent offenders walk free. Alaskans are tired of a sexual assault rate six time the national average. Alaskans are tired of living in a state where murder is the third leading cause of death for Alaska Native women. Alaskans are tired of living in fear.

On election night that message became even more clear when voters rejected Judge Michael Corey, a historic first for Alaska. Juneau may be outside the Third Judicial District where voting on Judge Corey took place, but the issues are just as relevant as in the Anchorage area. Now that the focus moves to the upcoming legislative session, Juneau and the rest of the state have a chance to weigh in on the crisis of sexual violence in Alaska.

While we believe Judge Corey’s lack of judicial discretion was reason for non-retention, we also recognize that the failures of our judicial system go much deeper than a single judge. Therefore, No More Free Passes will continue to exist and advocate for legislative fixes to the multiple failures in the Schneider case.

Alaska leads the nation in sexual violence. We don’t need to cite another statistic or author another study to tell us that. We don’t need another awareness campaign. Almost every single Alaskan is touched by sexual trauma in some way. Awareness is not the issue. Alaska needs meaningful policy change.

Therefore, we are calling on the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to pass a bill specifically dealing with sexual assault as one of their first pieces of legislation. This legislation should address the three failings brought to light by the Schneider case.

First, non-consensual contact with semen must be classified as a sex crime. This provision is obvious and has been endorsed across the political spectrum including by former Gov. Bill Walker. Second, strangulation to the point of unconsciousness should be classified as assault in the first degree. Strangulation is an act of extreme control, often used in domestic violence and sexual assaults and leads to countless intentional and unintentional deaths. Finally, credit for time served on ankle monitoring should be reduced to a more reasonable amount in violent crime cases. In the Schneider case, he had already served a year out of a maximum two-year sentence at home awaiting trial. We believe the credit for time under house arrest should be limited to no more than a quarter of the total sentence in these cases.

In addition to changing sentencing laws, we second the call by the Alaska Federation of Natives for an investigation into the Alaska Department of Law. We must ensure that there are sufficient prosecutors to handle the heavy load of domestic violence and sexual assault cases and that there are procedures in place to ensure that victims get a chance at justice.

Schneider got a pass thanks to the failings of the judge, the prosecutor and the laws. We’re going to make sure that never happens again.

We hope you join us as we put an end to free passes for violence.

• Isaac and Elizabeth Williams are a brother and sister who founded No More Free Passes.

• Isaac and Elizabeth Williams are a brother and sister who founded No More Free Passes. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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