As I write this article, a woman, child or man — an Alaskan — is being needlessly harmed somewhere in our state through an act of domestic violence. This should be no surprise to any of us. The statistics on domestic violence that plague our great state have not been hidden from view; they have been front and center since 2010. More than half of Alaska women surveyed in the 2020 Alaska Victimization Survey have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both in their lifetime. An astonishing number of our mothers, sisters, daughters, neighbors and friends are being battered behind closed doors in every corner of our state.
After decades as an Alaska State Trooper, I have lost count of the number of sobbing children and young women I held in my arms when responding to their call for help after being harmed by a loved one. As a father, I have personally experienced the helpless feeling that comes after an incident of domestic violence after one of my own children survived a domestic violence incident. In 2020, our Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Wildlife Troopers responded to more than 3,100 domestic violence incidents in both urban and rural communities. That number is only what was reported to troopers and does not include the countless instances that go unreported.
Many Alaskans view the high rates of domestic violence as solely a criminal justice or law enforcement problem. While law enforcement does play a significant role in responding to reports of domestic violence and holding those that commit these heinous acts responsible, once we have entered the picture, it is already too late. Another Alaskan’s life has been forever altered due to violence brought against them by someone they know and trust.
To fully address domestic violence, we must drag it from the shadows and into the daylight. We must educate our children about healthy relationships, we must stand alongside survivors, and we must do better as Alaskans. With the support of Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Legislature, the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the Department of Public Safety has funded $2 million for domestic violence prevention programs across the state. Programs like Coaching Boys into Men, Green Dot, The Fourth R, and many more are making meaningful progress preventing future instances of domestic violence.
However, we must do more. A government program is not going to solve this problem alone. Solving the generational issue of domestic violence will take all of us.
Domestic violence must be addressed at every level; as a home, neighborhood, city, village, community, borough, region and state, we must ask ourselves what each of us are doing individually to address the violence hiding in too many of our homes and also if we should be doing more. For too long, many Alaskans have looked in the other direction and pretended not to notice, but if we all stand together and agree that enough is enough, we can extinguish this raging wildfire once and for all. The time to help our fellow Alaskans is now. If you know or suspect that someone you know is experiencing violence at home, safely reach out to them and ask how you can help. If you don’t know anyone experiencing domestic violence, you can help by being a positive role model of healthy relationships to your community.
I hope you will stand alongside me during Domestic Violence Awareness Month to truly help end domestic violence in our state once and for all.
James Cockrell is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety and a 29-year veteran of the Alaska State Troopers. If you are experiencing domestic violence help is available. Call 911 if it is an emergency or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, text LOVEIS to 22522, or chat online at www.thehotline.org.
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