Our view: Stunning numbers

A joint hearing by two state Senate committees revealed grim numbers on Monday. • More than 47 percent of Alaska women report that they've been the victims of either threats and/or actual physical domestic violence in a romantic or intimate relationship at some time in their lives.

• More than 44 percent have suffered physical violence in a close relationship, from slapping to severe beatings.

• More than 9 percent report either physical violence or the threat of it in the last year.

• More than 37 percent report that they've suffered some form of sexual assault in their lives.

• More than 4 percent report that they've suffered sexual assault in the last year.

• More than 58 percent of Alaska women report that they've suffered either threats of violence or actual physical violence in an intimate relationship or sexual assault at some time in the lives.

Andre Rosay of the UAA Justice Center told the senators that these numbers are "astonishingly high." The numbers are based on a survey of 871 adult Alaska women in May and June of 2010, called the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey. Both Rosay and Lauree Morton, interim director of the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said even those staggering numbers are almost certainly conservative.

Sen. Hollis French asked Morton if the numbers surprised her. "Sen. French, no," Morton replied. She said people working in the field have long known that Alaska numbers were high. The survey -- which had women reporting sexual assault at about 10 times the rate sexual assault is reported to police -- only quantified what many Alaskans have known or suspected. Still, the numbers shock. What to do? Recent actions include Gov. Sean Parnell's "Choose Respect" campaign and his hiring of more village public safety officers in rural Alaska. Sen. Fred Dyson noted the success of programs to report crimes against children, in which police, nurses and counselors work together to ease the pain of interviews and exams; similar models could ease the ordeal of reporting, arrests and successful prosecutions for women.

Even in the brief testimony and comments Monday, two elements became clear. Prevention is far preferable to treatment. Morton talked about a pilot program in schools that teaches about the "fourth R": relationships. But when assault has occurred, Alaska's women need to know that the state's best and most caring people are on their side, that they are not and need not be alone. French said Monday's hearing and the report were a beginning. The end should be to change this violent reality.

BOTTOM LINE: Domestic violence and sexual assault survey should spur Alaskans to change numbers, save lives.

PDF: Summary of the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey