Opinions

OPINION: I fought for justice for 5 years after I was sexually assaulted. The work isn’t finished.

The month of March haunts me. This month marks five years since I was raped, and four years since I found out that nothing was done after I reported it. So, it seems only fitting that this long, painful chapter of my life concludes now, with the settlement of my lawsuit against the City of Nome. I hope that with closure comes peace and I hope that with accountability comes change.

To me, the most meaningful part of the settlement against Nome, for its repeated failure to investigate the sexual assault I reported, is the apology from the City of Nome. Those words are addressed to me, but the acknowledgment that the Nome Police Department (NPD) perpetuated harm to hundreds of us seeking help are words meant for the entire community. My hope is that this apology helps us heal and is one more weapon in our fight for a safer Nome.

In the apology, the mayor and city’s Common Council promised us that they are monitoring NPD to ensure what happened to me doesn’t happen again. While I am appreciative of the sentiment, I learned very early on that accountability and change only happen if the people demand it.

We will need to hold them to their words. The City of Nome needs to rebuild trust with the community. This will take more than an apology. This requires action and continued community involvement. Attend Public Safety Advisory Commission or Council meetings, join if you have the time, write letters to the editor.

I’ve spent half of a decade fighting a system that wanted to ignore me. The battle has been ugly and disheartening. In every report I filed with law enforcement, I had to relive the details of a night that will haunt me forever. I thought I was one of them, part of NPD as a 911 dispatcher – but they dismissed me and mocked me behind my back. Through the civil litigation process, I was questioned as to whether I was even raped at all. I know how they treated me isn’t unusual, but it hurt a lot. I felt as if everyone just wanted me to live with it.

To the criminal legal system, I wasn’t worth the time.

Not everyone felt that way, though. I discovered this at that first meeting at Old St. Joe’s Hall in Nome, organized by amazing community members who created a safe space and empowered me to tell my story. I was so scared, but when I spoke, I was free. I realized then the value in speaking out, in telling my story, in not letting the system ignore me.

Then the people of Shaktoolik reinforced the importance of it all with every hug and every thank you and each word of appreciation when I moved back home. Too many of them – men and women – were victims too. I was not alone.

I found the courage to endure the past five years in my nieces and nephews, whose mere existence brings me comfort and joy. They made me realize that all of this trouble – the continued trauma pushed onto me during the legal process – was worth it. I wasn’t just fighting for me; I was fighting for them. They’re so young and innocent.

I’ll never know true justice. Justice would have been never being raped. Justice would have been an investigation into what happened. What I get is accountability, and an opportunity to move forward.

Sometimes, I still feel ashamed and violated – like it all happened yesterday. But I am doing my best to shed those feelings.

I spent a couple of years in Shaktoolik connecting with my roots. I needed to be back in the community that shaped me. I spent time with family. I gathered berries, herring eggs, and wild onions. All of it was part of healing and part of the fuel I needed to keep enduring the process.

A few months ago, I found the courage to move back to Nome. Some days I don’t leave the apartment. I don’t feel comfortable going to the store or even the dentist. I have to build myself up to step a foot out of the door, but I’m trying.

I want to love March again – it’s when state and regional basketball tournaments are, and Iditarod too. I want to find my place in Nome again. I used to love it here. I played basketball a lot, I volunteered. These are goals I hope to achieve someday.

Five years of fighting have shown me how easy it is for a system to ignore its most vulnerable members. Five years of fighting have shown me how the criminal justice system can turn its back on Indigenous people, women and sexual assault survivors. But five years of fighting have also shown me how powerful the rest of us are.

My biggest hope is that we continue to harness that power because it matters to all of those who’ve already suffered, and it matters for the next generation. We can prevent that harm from happening to them.

While I was home in Shaktoolik, I kept thinking about advice from my grandparents. They always told me that if you see something is wrong, say something about it. Do not let people silence you.

My case is settled, but this is not the time to be quiet. The fight for a better Alaska is not over. Keep talking. Keep listening. Keep working to break the cycle. We all deserve change.

Clarice ‘Bun’ Hardy is an Inupiaq woman from Shaktoolik, currently residing in Nome. She was represented in Hardy v. Nome by the ACLU of Alaska, the ACLU Racial Justice Program, and Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller & Monkman, LLP.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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