Alaska making a difference in ending cycle of violence

COMPASS: Other points of view

By KATIE TEPASMay 19, 2012 

As columnist Shannyn Moore noted (ADN, May 6), ending the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault will take more than a march. I could not agree more.

Under the leadership of Gov. Sean Parnell, Alaskans are doing much more.

In partnership with more than 120 Alaska communities, we have shattered the silence. Never before in our state (and perhaps across the nation) has a governor played such a pivotal role in this matter. Never before has Alaska experienced this magnitude of public discussion on these topics. Never before has there been this level of action and yes, funding. Never before has there been so much to be proud of -- not ashamed of.

Gov. Parnell has brought to light the horrific statistics rather than discounting them. Ending the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault is a signature priority of his administration. The Parnell administration has increased funding for prevention, intervention and enforcement. Since 2010, nearly $30 million in new funding has been targeted to the initiative, including funds in the fiscal year 2013 budget.

We will continue to build on each of these areas. We are not done. Alaskans are stepping up to end the epidemic of assault and abuse.

Alaska is in a significantly better place. This does not mean the road ahead is an easy one. Much work is still needed on behalf of victims and survivors. We need everyone "in" and using their collective, collaborative voices to support the actions of the courageous.

I was saddened that Moore discounted the dedication and courage of more than 120 communities, many of them rural, marching to stand up against these crimes. And I doubt she would have said that in reference to the civil rights marches of the '60s that brought awareness and action to the field of discrimination.

When it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault, breaking the silence is part of the solution. It is a vital part of changing the social norms that condone violence.

Each year, victims and survivors express their gratitude for these events. In the words of one survivor, "Bringing awareness to this cause on a grassroots level across the state is the biggest step toward breaking the patterns of violence."

Alaskans are making a difference.

Moore's column also misrepresented facts and ignored the significant progress that the Parnell administration, in partnership with Alaskans, communities and nonprofits, has made.

Village Public Safety Officer positions are being filled with qualified applicants. In 2008, the state had 45 VPSOs; today we have nearly 100.

VPSO pay increases and retention incentives have been realized, and the governor's approval of $1 million in VPSO housing grants is helping communities build the infrastructure needed to attract, support and sustain local VPSOs.

The governor has approved annual funding to assist local governments with paying for forensic medical sexual assault exams, enhancing training for domestic violence and sexual assault rural first responders, and providing follow-up investigations.

Additional funding will help implement a nationally recognized child forensic interviewing curriculum.

When was the last time a domestic violence or sexual assault issue was part of a special session? A strong message was sent. These issues matter. They warrant everyone's action and attention. The trafficking legislation passed this year.

It will take more than public funds to change the social norms that promote violence.

It takes individual and community ownership of the issues and engagement on solutions.

It will take columnists using their platforms judiciously to help, not hinder, the effort.

Columnists like Moore should join this comprehensive effort and lend their voices in support of victims and survivors, to challenge those who believe they have no responsibility in ending this epidemic and to engage and educate those who still blame victims or who naively believe the statistics are not accurate.

Gov. Parnell "gets it" and is leading the efforts. Providing misinformation is not helpful. It does not help protect victims and survivors. What can help save a life is really simple, and we should all use our platforms to say it often: "If you or someone you know has been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, you are not alone. Help is available by calling 1-800-478-8999. If you have been harmed, you are not to blame, and the shame is not yours."

Katie TePas is Gov. Sean Parnell's coordinator for the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Initiative.

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