Picture yourself in a room of 10 friends. Six of us have been sexually assaulted or beaten by a partner. That’s what we know about Alaska women: that most of us have been assaulted or abused in our lifetimes. In our communities, on our streets, in our homes. In our Alaska.
These women are my friends and my family. People I have grown up with and watched grow up. People who share my heart and my life, my world and hopes. Women I have hidden behind barricaded doors with fearing a violent spouse. Women I have comforted after hearing of college parties gone violent. Women I have cried with after learning of their assault at the hands of strangers. Women torn apart after the loss of a loved one at the hands of an abuser.
These women are my inspiration and my responsibility. As a lawyer, I have sat with people who have been raped, trafficked, stabbed and beaten. These women, my clients, were terrified of being deported or having their kids taken from them if they came forward with their truths. These women are anxious to reclaim their lives as women instead of victims. This hope is possible only when there is help.
The truth is, the statistics aren’t the story – they don’t describe the total impact of sexual violence and assault on us as individuals and us as Alaskans. It may be that six out of 10 Alaskan women, and too many men, have been assaulted or abused. But all of us suffer because of the violence. Sexual violence and child sexual assault are a persistent and pernicious piece of our lives in Alaska. This truth defines us for what we are not – safe and secure for the majority of Alaskan women and too many of our children. As we strive for justice, for equity in our state, we have so far to go. No-one is safe until we all are safe.
Our community, our legacy will be measured by our willingness to stand up, not stand by. To fight back against these horrific stories and statistics. For the time being, we who can speak must speak. We who can support local organizations such as Stand Together Against Rape (STAR), the Alaska Institute for Justice, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC), the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative, and AlaskaCares, must support this work. We are all on the front lines of intervention.
But more importantly, we must stand up to make room for the voices of women and children who are surviving this violence. To reclaim our communities, our homes, our streets. To stand with women and children as we tell our stories without fear. To claim our basic human right to live without violence. And to claim our promise as Alaskans to live equitable, just and safe lives.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month throughout the United States. During this month, we are challenged to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate ourselves on prevention. Picture yourself back in that room of Alaskan women. Realize that violence has impacted the majority of the people in that room. Understand that because everyone in the room is an Alaskan, a friend or neighbor, all have been affected by violence. Ask yourself: What will you do to help?
Mara Kimmel is the First Lady of Anchorage. In that role, she leads efforts to create a more welcoming, safe community.
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