Gov. Sean Parnell joined the community conversation in Homer, Alaska, on Wednesday at the second of two "Voices Over Violence" meetings sponsored by South Peninsula Haven House. These and other community meetings have been held in the wake of a Sept. 8 teen drinking party that resulted in the arrests of Anthony Resetarits, 20, Joseph Resetarits, 18, and a 16-year-old minor for second degree sexual assault of a 17-year-old boy. The party also resulted in the disciplinary action of multiple Homer High School students. Details of the incident are still being investigated by the Alaska State Troopers.
"I'm really here as an outgrowth of why these dialogues are happening, because of what happened in this community," Parnell told the Mariner Theatre audience of 50-75 youth and adults. "I'm here to say I can't solve it for you, I can't fix it, I can't make it right, but I can support you in making sure a sexual assault like this doesn't happen again in this community."
In 2009, Parnell made the commitment that Alaska would do what was needed to end the epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse in the state. His Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Initiative, known as "Choose Respect," focuses on three key areas: prevention and intervention, support for survivors, and law enforcement. The initiative's original 18 partner communities participated in "Choose Respect" marches in 2010. In 2011, the number of partnering communities increased to 64. This year, the number of communities across the state increased to 120.
Before introducing the governor, Jessica Lawmaster, executive director of Haven House, said she has been in contact with the governor "a lot in the past month." Lawmaster also noted support received from the Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Initiative for a related event in Homer called "Stand Up For Peace."
With Parnell were his wife, Sandy, Cindy Sims of the Governor's Office, and Special Assistant Katie TePas, coordinator for the Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Initiative.
Parnell drew attention to the "epidemic levels" of sexual assault and domestic violence in the state.
"Whether it's Homer, Anchorage, Kipnuk, Kodiak or all around the state, we deal with these issues daily," said Parnell. "Every day we have an opportunity to not shove something under the rug, but to actually have a dialogue, so thanks to Haven House for having the courage to do that, to show up tonight and say that domestic violence and sexual assault are not who we are, that we believe in the value of human life, the value of other human beings and that we will stand for other Alaskans in their time of need."
Highlights of the Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Initiative during the 2011-2012 fiscal year include:
- A "Real Alaskans Choose Respect" media campaign with more than 17 radio station and television ads;
- Training for 35 teachers in 17 school districts on "Fourth R," a healthy relationship curriculum;
- More individuals using victim service programs, from 8,500 in fiscal year 2009 to 11,478 in fiscal year 2011;
- Twice the number of filled village public safety officer positions, from 47 in 2008 to 96 in 2012;
- Three additional positions with the Alaska State Troopers technical crimes unit focusing on cyber crimes;
- Four additional positions with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation major crimes and child abuse units.
Parnell praised the efforts of Haven House and those attending Wednesday's meeting for their dialogue on sexual assault and domestic violence and promotion of "justice, healing and restoration."
"This is really a 'Y' in the road for Homer, Alaska. It's important. The choices you make here tonight mean something to your future, for Alaska," said Parnell. "I'm here to support you and to offer my voice in support of never, ever, ever seeing another family destroyed by violence or sexual assault. That's really my mission and now it's a mission you share with me."
The audience then divided into groups based on areas of feedback Lawmaster said Haven House has received since the "Voices Over Violence" meetings began: school policy, school-based prevention and community-based prevention.
"Haven House isn't trying to take on all these projects or lead these projects, but provide space for these conversations and help organize it," said Lawmaster. "What we hear from you is there are committed community members that don't want to see the topic forgotten. This is an opportunity to use your voice, to dialogue with each other."