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Governor Parnell’s Crackdown On Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence

September 16, 2010

I have stated my dissatisfaction with Governor Parnell’s expensive initiative to investigate, prosecute, imprison and stigmatize those who commit sexual abuse and domestic violence. For it’s 51 years of statehood, the State bureaucracy has almost completely ignored what has gone on in rural Alaska. Law enforcement is almost invisible. Governor Murkowski almost succeeded in decimating the Village Public Safety Officer Program. The Alaska Court System has not had an Alaska Native Judge since Roy Madsen in Kodiak. I am not aware of any Alaska Native advisors to the Governor. He understands the need to have Alaska Natives in his cabinet, but as with previous governors, the needs of rural Alaska go unmet except for photo opportunities.

In a 2001 publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association,[i] research from various Adverse Childhood Experience Studies (ACES) is summarized with respect to predictors for suicide attempts. One of those predictors is contact sexual abuse. At least 2 studies place the number of respondents who experienced contact sexual abuse in the general population at about 16% for men and 26% for women. Other studies show that women are perpetrators more frequently than we would imagine. These are national averages. If applied to the urban areas of Alaska, there should be thousands of prosecutions. Of course the Governor focused his efforts on rural Alaska, which is predominantly Alaska Native.

I am not an apologist for sexual abuse. It should not be allowed to exist. Our children should not be subjected to sexual abuse. Period. But when you look at the numbers, what should be done to reduce the incidences of reported sexual abuse? Prosecute and put every perpetrator in jail for lengthy periods of time? Shame and humiliate, or in the words of attorney general Dan Sullivan, “stigmatize” them.

Sexual abuse is rampant in rural Alaska. I accept that fact. I also accept that almost all of Alaska’s rural residents have been traumatized as children. Traumatized children who are untreated grow into adults who may repeat the abuse they suffered decades before.

Our Governor has chosen additional prosecution and punishment over prevention. Apparently modest amounts of prevention designated funding are going to an organization that promotes a religious week long revival type method to address what are likely deeply ingrained traumas. While potentially effective, this band aid approach will have limited success. Religion is already chosen by many victims to help them mediate the impact of childhood trauma. In addition, children are not helped by the week long event designed to appeal to adults.

In the meantime, as I stated before, the Governor’s actions will facilitate the infliction of 2 or more traumas on Alaska’s child victims of sexual abuse—an absent parent and a parent in prison. It may also facilitate poverty, depression for the other parent, and possible emotional abuse by the remaining parent if they blame the child for the imprisonment of their spouse.

Where are the deep thinkers on the Governor’s staff? Where is DHSS, the Division of Juvenile Justice, and the Office of Children’s Services? We need to discuss and consider the implications of this very narrow and extremely expensive policy  that may not meet the needs of our children at all.

[i] “Childhood Abuse, Household Dysfunction, and the Risk of Attempted Suicide Throughout the Life Span: Findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, Dube et al., JAMA,. December 26, 2001—Vol 286, No. 24.”

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