Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
Alaska, we have a rape problem. Apparently that’s acceptable to most of us or we’d be storming the castle for change.
My blood pressure is still in the stratosphere after reading a recent fundraising letter from our governor. As part of his pitch for money, Sean Parnell listed his “accomplishments.” Most of them were your garden-variety political credit-snatching and posturing, but one had me apopletic.
“… Our Choose Respect initiative has freed Alaskans from domestic violence and sexual assault.”
I’ll wait while you re-read that sentence. …
As the cliche goes, “I may have been born in the morning but not this morning.”
I’m tempted to take off on a name-calling tear, but let’s look at the facts instead.
Alaska was recently rated as the third most violent of the 50 states. (The FBI apparently didn’t get Parnell’s letter, so it continues to work with these things called “crime statistics,” a practice I would recommend to the governor’s office.)
Researchers wondered why Alaska had this problem.
“It may seem incongruous that Alaska, which has a low poverty rate and high levels of high school and college graduates, would be among the states with the worst crime rates. It has among the worst violent crime rates in part because of its forcible rape rate: 79.7 per 100,000 residents, the nation’s highest rate. (The FBI report doesn’t include numbers for date rape or statutory rape.)
Also disturbing, a 2010 study suggests that 37 percent of women who live in Alaska say they’ve “suffered some form of sexual assault in their lives,” according to a story in the Daily News. “Alaska is also second in aggravated assaults. While rape and assault rates are high, other crime levels are average.”
Maybe the governor doesn’t think 79.7 rapes per 100,000 residents is all that bad. Hey, second-place South Dakota isn’t that far behind (70.2 per 100,000). No. 3 is Michigan, which had 46.4, slightly more than half our rate. New York, by the way, is a far, far better 14.6.
(Here’s another, equally ugly way to look at these numbers: If Alaska cut its rape rate in half — which would be a phenomenal, incredible achievement — we still would rank seventh among U.S. states for most rapes per capita.)
Last month, U.S. Indian Law and Order Commission Chairman Troy Eid came to Alaska and lambasted the governor and attorney general for their failure to protect women and children in Alaska. The state under Parnell seems to have boundless resources to file political lawsuits against the federal government and to fight local problem-solving in rural Alaska, but if you expect him to spend the money actually required to make a difference in these horrific statistics you haven’t been paying attention.
Eid had this to say while in Anchorage: “There ought to be a recognition of tribal sovereignty as the force that will keep people safer — and why not? It’s what we do everywhere else in the United States. We recognize local people should be able to govern themselves, make their own decisions, that they should not be fighting with their states.”
All Alaska women are at risk, but Alaska Native women are three and a half times more likely than the rest of us to be victims of sexual assault.
Ladies, think about that for a minute. (Then, please, think about it again in the voting booth.)
“According to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Amnesty International reported, “in at least 86 percent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report the perpetrators are non-Native men.”
Sean Parnell has spent a lot of time on the public payroll, and he shows no interest in getting off of it. When it comes to parades and TV commercials, he’s hell on wheels. But now, after six years of his gubernatorial leadership in the fight against sexual assault and domestic violence, what has he actually accomplished? You can’t say he hasn’t had time to make meaningful progress.
As he tells it, “… our Choose Respect initiative has freed Alaskans from domestic violence and sexual assault.” But that just isn’t the truth.
When Parnell became governor, Alaska had 64.6 forcible rapes per 100,000 residents. Now we have 79.7. Either number is obscenely, heartbreakingly high.
Freed? This guy is running and fundraising on failure — some really pretty substantial failure. Think of the women — and their families — living lives of quiet despair while the governor basks in the glow of his self-congratulations.
Commissions have studied and recommended changes and solutions. Why aren’t we hitting those at a hundred miles an hour? What responsible public figure considers a truly aggressive war on sexual assault in Alaska more than we can afford or manage? How can that be anything but worth our effort?
Choose Respect? How about Choose Reality?
And then do something about it, and I don’t mean more lip service.
Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., an on Netroots Radio.