The Choose Respect campaign can be said to be a part of community education. Community education is necessary in making the public aware of the problem of violence against Alaskan women and increases public discourse on the issue. However, the "Choose Respect" campaign stands to be about as effective as "Just Say No" was on drug abuse.
Choose Respect doesn't work on perpetrators, who merely choose victims, so who is the Choose Respect campaign for? Is it for victims? The energy spent on organizing marches, coordinating communities, and finding speakers could very well be spent on under-served victims and their families, and in ensuring parity in allocation of resources.
Some, with preconceived notions about victims of abuse (particularly sexual abuse), may wonder "why should we care?" Besides improving the quality of life in any community, and helping to save children from a life haunted by trauma, it's simply better for our pocketbooks. Victims are more likely to suffer health problems and addictions and that raises our costs. Victims suffer less if the community response is not only public outcry, but actually supporting them in the crisis, and obtaining justice. As a survivor of violence once said to me, "justice is healing."
If we are so concerned about our budget and our economy then it would be wise to decrease the volume of assaults and to spend the money necessary for violence prevention, victim care, and improving access to legal remedies. In this regard, and after three years of Choose Respect drum-beating, we still fail. Many front-line shelters around Alaska have lost their funding sources or never had any state funding to begin with. What kind of a commitment is that?
Perhaps the path of money would help us to see what the priorities in this campaign are and what they are not.
By way of example: Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew stated in a UAA Justice Club Forum on March 26 that there needs to be a stable on-going funding source for SART (Sexual Assault Response Team). SART is perhaps the most important first-response effort a community can make to support the victim and gather evidence for prosecution. The city of Anchorage only has one, at Providence Hospital. Inconsistent funding, in a city and a state that does not prioritize SART, leaves hospitals and others to pick up the tab. Perhaps Choose Respect could choose to support SART, and actually help cities reduce crimes against women.
The municipality of Anchorage shows crime rates overall are marginally lower in Anchorage than comparable cities. But it also shows an increase in adult sexual assaults in the past three years with no remarkable increase in arrests for sexual violence, let alone convictions. Again, where is the commitment?
It takes more than focusing just on victims though, and more than just arresting perpetrators. It takes holding systems accountable that would ignore abuse.
Perhaps the effort could also move towards influencing offices and organizations to choose to not hide perpetrators or to not glorify known perpetrators. It's worth questioning where the line is drawn. Is it better to protect the reputation of an institution/organization, or protect the victim? Sexual harassment and assaults occur on the job too, or while on a job related activity. These are the cases least likely to be reported because the victim is either discouraged by a superior to bring charges, or her job is threatened.
How honest are we willing to be to end violence against women in this state and in this city and how committed is this movement really?
The campaigning in the streets might make some politicians and others feel good in their politicizing of the subject, but when it comes right down to it, we have a serious problem that requires so much more than government-sponsored protests.
Diane E. Benson is a professor at the University of Alaska teaching Native Women Surviving Violence, and president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, Camp 87.