Last week, the country watched as Christine Blasey Ford, speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, detailed an incident in which she said she had been sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 1983.
In the Anchorage Daily News newsroom, as that hearing played on the television in the background, hard news rolled in from around the state. In Wasilla, a well-respected fourth-grade teacher appeared in court on charges he inappropriately touched students in incidents stretching back more than a decade. And two women talked to a reporter, saying that decades ago, they were raped by a Kotzebue man charged with the sexual assault and murder of a 10-year-old girl last month.
In those cases, abusive behavior went on for years. There were clues for parents and law enforcement, but the victims, by and large, stayed silent. It's worth giving thought to why.
This national conversation about sexual assault is a local, personal one, too, maybe here more than anywhere. According to state figures, 59 percent of Alaska women have been the victims of sexual violence, intimate partner violence or both. You might need to read that statistic twice. Let it sink in.
Many of us have had conversations this week about the ways sexual assault has affected our own lives, either as victims or as the people who love them. In social media posts, private messages and in-person conversations, women are uttering the details of incidents took place at a college dorm, or on a high school trip, or sleepover. The perpetrators: a sibling, a family friend, a trusted adult. Even Sen. Lisa Murkowski made mention of her #MeToo moment.
"I know what calculations are made in deciding not to come forward. I know the dread of watching a wolf then slowly accumulate status. I understand what it's like to worry that people will believe you, but just not care. Even now, I'm not naming this person because there are enough incentives against doing so," wrote one woman, a former Alaskan now studying to be a lawyer, after describing being raped while attending an Ivy League school on Facebook. "I worry it would damage me more than him."
Explicitly or not, survivors have been told their accounts of abuse don't matter. Some are warned by their abusers — or worse, those they confide in — to not tell their stories, and that they won't be believed or that they will be blamed. And in a distressing number of cases, those who have come forward and made official reports — as recently detailed in the cases of women in rural Alaska — have seen no justice.
All of us have a responsibility to be part of the solution. A culture of silence enables perpetrators to continue patterns of abuse, spreading the epidemic of sexual abuse across generations.
For those of us in a position to make change, we must ask ourselves: Are we doing what we can to allow victims to come forward and be protected and believed, and what can we do better?
The silence must end. We must listen — every one of us — to survivors of sexual violence. We must do what we can to ensure the issues that inhibited them from speaking out before now are addressed, and that we do a better job in ensuring justice is done.
[The Anchorage Daily News is reporting on sexual abuse in Alaska. If you have a story to share, or believe there is information we should know about a person or case, please fill out this confidential form.]
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