I have worked with survivors of sexual assault for more than three decades. As someone who has seen the harm so many victims of sexual abuse live with, I need to say my piece about Mike Gordon, who has stood up to seek a short jail sentence for a notorious, repeat sex offender.
Gordon is now running to represent me in the Legislature. He does not represent my values. As a mother and grandmother, I want children to grow up knowing that sexual abuse is among the most unacceptable things a human being can do to another.
When I was honored with Alaska's First Lady Volunteer Award back in 1982, for work I did to help sexual assault victims at the nonprofit Standing Together Against Rape, I didn't just see it as an award. I saw it as a call to keep working to help sexual assault and domestic violence victims. I have done that, as a volunteer and as a counselor.
I remember the sex crimes of the man for whom Gordon pushed a lenient sentence. For months we saw news accounts, including in this paper, of crimes by well-known businessman Josef Boehm. Boehm was ultimately convicted for sexually abusing more than a dozen teenage girls. One of these girls was only 13 years old at the time.
Boehm was convicted for running a drug and sex trafficking ring out of his home. He put troubled girls on drugs, arranged for them to have sex with men and damaged lives.
Mike Gordon was one of the members of the Anchorage establishment, along with then-Assemblyman Dan Coffey and others, who joined to try to help Boehm and his attorneys. Boehm wanted a lenient sentence of "substantially less" than five years for repeated acts of teenage sexual abuse. Gordon was a bar owner who ran the state board that regulated alcohol in Alaska then.
Gordon told the judge Boehm deserved a short sentence, not the maximum one that the judge eventually imposed for Boehm's actions. In asking for a short sentence, Gordon wrote the judge that "Joe is a good guy." He said Joe's life was ruined by drugs. But a "good" person does not do this to children, and Boehm had a long history of sexually abusing young girls. He had been convicted for raping a 15-year-old girl 40 years earlier.
Coffey joined in asking for a light sentence. He testified in a way that also sent a terrible message to our children. Coffey said: "Look at those who are now blaming Joe for all the bad things that happened to them." He continued, "If you do, I doubt you will find any of them have made any contributions to our community."
Boehm ran in powerful circles. Powerful people should be careful how they use their influence. I do not believe that publicly calling a repeat perpetrator like Boehm a "good" person, as Gordon did, or that belittling victims, as Coffey did, sends a good message. Sexual assault should never be minimized. Anyone who is made uncomfortable by unwelcome advances should know they will be supported.
Sometimes leniency is justified. But I believe these leaders set a bad example. We want to demonstrate to children, by our actions, that sexual assault is among the most destructive misdeeds you can commit toward another human being.
I've taken many crisis calls from victims of sexual assault, and worked to aid victims in the hospital and in court. I have seen too much suffering in my life. Imprisonment gives me no joy. But I also believe adults cannot be excused from personal responsibility. That sends a harmful message.
Drugs do ruin people's lives. We should provide treatment for those trying to battle addiction. But living with an addiction is never an excuse to abuse others.
Sexual assault occurs too often in Alaska. I want leaders I trust to prevent more sexual assault, and to protect those who've been victimized.
Vera Paschke is a former volunteer at Standing Together Against Rape (STAR). She helped found the Alaska Women's Recovery Project, and has worked with sexual assault victims and those facing other challenges as a mental health clinician. In 1982 she received the First Lady Award from Bella Hammond for her work at STAR. She lives in Anchorage.