Elizabeth Williams (Courtesy Photo)

Elizabeth Williams (Courtesy Photo)

Opinion: Forget awareness, sexual assault survivors deserve real change

Awareness is not enough.

  • Tuesday, April 23, 2019 12:55pm
  • Opinion

Alaska state legislators recently declared April Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While this gesture is meant to show support for victims and their families, awareness is not enough.

According to the UAA Justice Center, over half of Alaskan women suffer sexual assault or domestic violence in their lifetime. With numbers that high, it’s clear that we need concrete policy solutions — not symbolic gestures.

When Justin Schneider brutally strangled and masturbated on a young woman and received no jail time, the failings of our laws were brought into stark focus. We at No More Free Passes, along with so many of the Alaskan public, demanded change. We led the campaign to not retain Judge Michael Corey who approved the plea deal. However, just replacing the judge was clearly not enough, the laws needed changed as well.

[Bill would ‘redefine’ sex crime in Alaska, broaden definition of sexual assault]

Senate Bill 12, introduced by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, with our support, closes the Schneider loopholes by addressing three aspects of our laws. First, the legislation makes non-consensual contact with semen a sex offense. Second, it elevates strangulation to the point of unconsciousness to first-degree assault. It also elevates sentencing for any sexual assault that includes strangulation or a firearm. Finally, the bill eliminates sentence credit for time spent on electronic monitoring in cases of crimes against persons and requires prosecutors to confer with victims prior to a sexual assault plea. Together, these provisions mean that Schneider would have faced a sentence in the range of 10-20 years and registration as a sex offender rather than the zero jail time and no consequences he actually received.

This is the kind of real action that will end the crisis of sexual violence in Alaska. Rather than giving offenders a free pass and allowing them to victimize other innocent Alaskans, they will face real consequences for their actions. We understand that all of the problems in our criminal justice system cannot be fixed in one bill or one legislative session, however SB 12 acts as a down payment on fixing our system. This legislation does not seek to rewrite our criminal justice statues or dramatically change our system in ways we do not fully understand. Instead, it approaches failings in our sexual assault laws and restores the public’s confidence in the legislature to address urgent criminal justice issues.

[Legislators aim to get crime legislation right]

However, despite the public’s overwhelming support for the legislation, SB 12 is now in limbo. While the bill was written, introduced and moved through judiciary committee efficiently, it has now been stalled in the Senate Finance committee for over a month. Senate leadership has failed to schedule a vote on this legislation or even hold a second finance committee hearing for the public to weigh in. There is an unfortunate irony to spending Sexual Assault Awareness Month watching the most significant bill on sexual violence remain trapped in committee.

Survivors are left wondering why their protection does not seem to be a priority to leadership.

At No More Free Passes we have christened April “sexual assault action month” because awareness alone will never be enough. Now it is time for the Alaska Senate to follow suit and show action on this urgent issue. We ask that a second finance committee hearing be held on SB 12 before time runs out in the legislative session. We also ask that all Alaskans who wish to participate in sexual assault action month take this opportunity to contact Senate Finance co- chairs Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and ask that the Schneider loophole bill be allowed to move forward.

• Isaac and Elizabeth Williams founded No More Free Passes, a grassroots group formed after the Justin Schneider sentencing. They reside in Anchorage. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

Isaac Williams (Courtesy Photo)

Isaac Williams (Courtesy Photo)

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