I submitted six questions to all of the Progressive candidates for the Alaska At-Large Congressional seat (running against Don Young) as well as the U.S. Senate seat (running against Ted Stevens). The ones who responded were Ethan Berkowitz, Diane Benson and Mark Begich. Here is the answer to question number two from AK-AL candidates Diane Benson and Ethan Berkowitz.2) Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault: Do you have a plan to address and provide solutions to protect the mostly women and children affected by this chronic problem? Can you address solutions especially geared towards the Alaska Native Community considering the frighteningly high number of Native victims in proportion to their population?
Having worked in the field of violence and recovery, I find several conditions evident for both the Native and non-Native communities:
1) There are not enough shelters in the state of Alaska for the protection of family members suffering in fear of and at the hands of violence.
2) Alcohol and drug abuse constitutes the major cause of violent crime committed in Alaska, yet we are sorely lacking in funds for alcohol and drug addiction treatment let alone for family support programs.
3) Education for women of every age about self-defense, protection, and resources is lacking.
4) First responders and police need more training and support to meet quicker and adequate response time and reporting requirements.
5) Community leaders and health care providers need to be adequately educated and trained in sexual assault prevention, mandatory reporting and reporters, safe homes, rape kit requirements, and victim testimony etc.
The Amnesty International report that alarmed many as to the level of sexual violence in Alaska was unfortunately only a fraction of the actual chronic levels of violence. Some who work in the field speculate that the rates of violence are as high as 90% in unreported cases. As Alaska’s Congressional Representative I would actively pursue ending this crisis in Alaska and therefore would:
1) Work with the Department of Justice and advocate for more funds directed to sexual assault and family violence prevention
2) Work with the state to increase rural police and VPSO programs, and appropriate training for these and other first responders.
3) Act on local recommendations for alternative/tribal court development, funding crisis centers, and act on school and other child safety plans.
4) Advocate for an increase in funds for justice for victims of crime.
5) Make reporting safer.
6) Work with the state to increase drug and alcohol recovery programs, and awareness – and support such federal bills as the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act.
7) Support a mandate to end sexual violence in Alaska.
Too many lives, too many families have been shattered by domestic violence and sexual assault. I worked on too many cases with too many victims, and know that this violence casts a dark, dark shadow over Alaska. The statistics impersonally convey the extent of the problem.
I know the humanity from experience.
I remember the dignity of a young woman, raped repeatedly, under circumstances too horrific to recount here. I remember the strength of an abuse victim, so badly beaten, her face swollen, her arm broken, supported by two officers as she made her way to the witness stand to testify against her attacker.
Those experiences as a prosecutor, my work with the Criminal Justice Assessment Commission, and my time in the state legislature make it clear that any effort to reduce crime depends on implementing a comprehensive strategy linking prevention, policing, prosecuting, and prison. It depends on making sure that victims can have a voice, and that they receive the counseling and treatment needed. It means making sure that government provides adequate resources so we can break these cycles of violence.
Rural Alaska suffers disproportionately because it lacks so much. There is simply not enough law enforcement in the Bush – more than eighty villages don’t have even a VPSO. There is a lack of drug and alcohol treatment, and a lack of probation and parole officers to help offenders reintegrate into communities. Too many places in Alaska lack a complete justice system. And too many rural Alaskans fall easy prey to predators when they come to our larger cities because the support they should have, the deterrence that should exist, and the prevention measures that should be in place are simply lacking.
Labels: Alaska At-Large Congressional Candidates, Democratic Convention, Diane Benson, domestic violence, Don Young, Ethan Berkowitz, sexual assault, Six Questions