Elise Patkotak: To end abuse, good men must break silence

By ELISE PATKOTAKMarch 19, 2013 

Neither Lisa Murkowski nor public safety at any level can impact domestic violence and sexual assault in Bush Alaska as much as the good men of those villages can. The men in those villages need to stand up for their mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces and grandmothers. They must make it clear that anyone who hurts them is no longer a welcomed member of the community.

Currently, men who abuse at night can go out with their hunting partner in the morning and feel no consequences. Nothing is said or done that would make the abuser the slightest bit uncomfortable. Abusers get elected or selected to positions of power on village and tribal councils. So the entire burden of this problem falls on the courts, the police and the women themselves. The men pay only if they are caught and successfully prosecuted. And even then, when their sentence is served, they often return to their village and take up life as though nothing had happened.

Abuse is not only a Native problem. But when you are in an isolated village and dependent on others to survive, the issue of abuse and sexual assault takes on another whole layer of horror. The man beating you tonight is the same one you will depend on tomorrow to bring meat to the table.

I know a lot of Alaska Native men and most are honorable, kind and brave. Look at the story in the paper last week. A young man from Barrow, John Ahkivgak, disarmed a man holding a knife to a boy's throat. He saw something that had to be done and he did it. That's the type of Native man I grew to know and admire over my years on the North Slope.

What I simply can't understand is how those same men cannot find a way to intervene when they see one of their own harming a woman in their village. What I simply can't understand is how these same men, most of whom treat the women in their lives with loving respect, can go out with a hunting buddy who uses his wife or girlfriend as a punching bag. What I don't understand is how the Native corporations that are so powerful in so many ways can seem so powerless to stop this epidemic of violence, or even raise a voice against it.

This is not something that can be ignored. It affects not just this generation but future generations. If left unchecked, this violence will destroy Native cultures in this state as much, if not more, than the intrusion of the Western world so many years ago. A young boy who sees his father abuse his mother with no consequences is going to grow up thinking that is the way men of his culture treat their woman. A girl who experiences sexual assault in her home with no consequences to the man abusing her will grow up accepting that her culture condones this since neither her family nor her village protected her.

Do Native men really want their daughters and sisters to grow up thinking they are not worthy of respect because they see men in their village who abuse women continue to be allowed to sit in positions of power? What message do they think this sends to Native women? In a small village, even Native women who have a safe home see the abuse around them. They have to wonder at some point why the men in their village don't make the abuser an outcast, someone who is no longer welcomed as part of their village unless he completely changes his ways.

All the police presence in the world cannot change the culture of violence towards women that seems to be almost replacing the traditional Native cultures in our villages. And all the women in the world working with all the shelters they can create will not stop the violence until the other 50 % of the community, the men, stand up and make it absolutely clear that they will not accept violence against women as the norm in their village.

This is not just a woman's problem. It's a culture's problem. The biggest void that exists right now in the villages is not the absence of police; it is the silence of good men.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.

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