Reject any normalization of sexual violence

We have all seen recent media reports where people in prominent positions are caught bragging about sexually assaulting women. The significant public and private empowerment of these people is dangerous to public safety because it normalizes sexual assault, and those of us who desire to keep individuals free from sexual violence need to therefore become more active in combating this normalization.

Alaska has some of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the U.S. (see the FBI's Uniform Crime Report rape statistics for just one example of this), and roughly one out of three women in Alaska has experienced sexual assault at least once in her lifetime (see the results of the 2010 and 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey). These numbers are appalling to me because they mean that of the hundreds of Alaska women who I know and care about, it is likely that a third of them have been violently victimized. I am particularly sensitive to this idea because I have experienced sexual violence on numerous occasions. These acts ranged from a stranger grinding their groin against my thigh on a crowded subway to acts that are far more personal and not worth repeating here.

[New report offers an in-depth look at Alaska's many sexual assault cases]

I am not ashamed to share these experiences with you because although they are personal, they are clear acts of victimization: I did not consent to these individuals touching me and my privacy was violated in the most personal manner possible. It is important to make that point very clear. Unless you can honestly say that it is acceptable for someone to rub their genitals against your body without your consent, or to touch your genitals without your consent or commit any other form of sexual violence against you, it is safe to say that we agree that sexual assault is a crime.

It is concerning to me a growing number of people in powerful positions have openly bragged about sexually assaulting women because this empowerment is an indicator of how many individuals think about sexual assault. If someone can so openly claim to touch people's genitals without their consent (regardless of whether or not they actually did so), and be put in positions of power, then the implicit message is that bragging about committing sexual assault is OK. If bragging about committing sexual assault is OK, the implicit message is that committing sexual assault is not only OK, but something to be proud of.

[Combating Alaska's epidemic of sexual violence is challenging, but we're in it together]

If we wish to keep people safe from sexual violence, this normalization cannot be accepted. You and I must actively reject it. This rejection can take many forms:


• There are symbolic demonstrations, like the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, through which we can use our unified presence and voice to renounce sexual violence and its normalization. Hundreds of thousands of individuals of all genders have already committed to march in D.C. or in sister marches across the country and globe. Our leaders need to hear that we are concerned and we are paying attention. Survivors need to hear that you care and that you acknowledge that sexual violence is not acceptable. You can get information about the sister marches in Alaska at womensmarchonalaska.org.

• There are more regular forms of activism such as paying close attention to how our state responds to sexual violence, and ensuring that elected officials are not only taking these issues seriously, but responding in ways that incorporate research, due process and the needs of sexual assault survivors and their communities. This form of activism requires paying critical attention to the news and demanding that your news agencies follow the most up-to-date and reliable research on how to respond to sexual violence. It also requires demanding that your elected officials fund independent research on the issue of sexual violence.  You can get information about bills being considered by the Alaska Legislature at akleg.gov.

• Lastly, spend your money according to these values: Give money to organizations that work to combat sexual violence, such as the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), give to your local news agencies so that they can conduct independent and critical journalism and give to the campaign funds of candidates who demonstrate an informed commitment to fighting sexual violence. You can get a list of victim service programs in Alaska at http://dps.alaska.gov/cdvsa/Services-Statewide.html.

There are many forms of activism you can take and there isn't room to cover them all here (see Dhara Shah's opinion piece for ADN in 2014 that lists many more titled "Alaskans need to put an end to rape culture"). The takeaway is that you should do something, you can do something and survivors of sexual violence are begging you to act. I hope that you will stand with me while I do.

Ingrid D. Johnson is a lifelong Alaskan who currently is a Ph.D. candidate in criminal justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. Her research includes intimate partner and sexual violence.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com.