Editors' note: On May 11, Alaskan storyteller Jack Dalton was charged with one count of child sexual abuse and one count of attempted child sexual abuse. He had recently performed in Anchorage in "Our Voices Will Be Heard," a play about a family working through the discovery of sexual abuse. Playwright Vera Starbard responded to the news in a social media message, shared below with her permission after slight revision.
I've been waiting until I have something positive to say about the situation with Jack. I've felt such overwhelming sorrow, and I've been waiting to feel better.
But there's no silver lining.
I wrote a play to tell a story about my own childhood sexual abuse, and then I invited someone I trusted, respected and cared for to be my voice.
The news that this same friend may himself have sexually abused children is the definition of gut-wrenching. I feel betrayal. I feel anger. I feel lost. And I feel so enormously sad.
Jack has not had his day in court, and we should not be judges in the meantime. I believe we should act on the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and frankly, the level of detail released to the public before any fair trial can commence is disturbing.
And yet I still want to rage. I want to rage at predators. I want to rage at the support predators are given to keep committing. I want to rage at a system that is not doing enough. I want to rage at never feeling like you can trust anyone.
In the hours following the news, I wanted to give up. Many amazing people had spent so much time and energy on this production. They were brave enough to tackle an unpopular, difficult subject, and put it out on a literal spotlight. And I saw my play, years in the making, dragged through media reports ... only now with words like "hypocrisy" and "irony."
But then I got a phone call. And a message. And another message and another phone call. And they didn't stop all day, or even all night. And while they were messages of personal support -- what I could not ignore was they were messages from people who were impacted by all that work. And that work was bigger than one person.
The flood of messages and people wanting to talk and discuss what needs to be done for healing -- that is what got me up in the morning when I wanted to hide.
I am proud of what the theatre, what the cast, what all the supporters did with "Our Voices Will Be Heard." And while this is not the popular, or easy, thing to say right now -- I am proud of what Jack did with the character I wrote. It was a punch in the gut to feel like all that good work was erased.
But I am beginning to believe it wasn't.
In my many conversations with Jack about healing and abuse, I know he has had his share of burdens to work through -- just as we all do. No matter how reprehensible what he's being accused of is, when someone calls him a monster or worthless trash, that dehumanization is just one more way we don't recognize our problem concerns real, human people.
If we dismiss abusers as trash, accused and convicted alike, we can't start to work toward real healing, and therefore, never actually address the problem. Dismissing abusers as outlier monsters is another way of ignoring the problem. If all the charges are true, Jack needs help, and he needs to be kept away from children forever. And while I still feel rage and hurt -- I still feel love for him. That is why it hurts so much.
And it also brings into frightening relief how much we need to do. Childhood sexual abuse can seem overwhelming in its scope and reach and heaviness. Yet my experience through this play was not heavy -- it was lightness itself. I met hundreds of people who wanted to do something, who wanted to speak out.
There is no positive point to this situation because this situation shouldn't exist. This should not happen to our communities, this should not happen to our children.
But I still believe that can be the world we create for them. We had a heavy blow to our community, but that means the work needs to move forward, not stop.
I hope in the following days I will be able to share some opportunities and spaces for dialogue, for sharing. Healing begins with speaking about our hurt. We need to grieve what happens, we need to be able to talk openly about our anger, and our sadness, and feelings of betrayal, or uncertainty. It begins with our voices being heard.
If you would like help or information on how to have conversations about sexual abuse, there are a number of resources online, including www.stopitnow.org. You may also follow Our Voices Will Be Heard on Facebook for upcoming information about what we can do in Alaska to keep our children safe, including potential dialogues.
Tlingit/Dena'ina writer Vera Starbard is editor of First Alaskans Magazine, and begins a three-year residency with Perseverance Theatre in July.
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