I stare at the keyboard and wonder what else can possibly be said about the epidemic of domestic violence in our state. If this latest survey from the UAA Justice Center follows the pattern others have, it will cause a stir for a week or so and then, like a dog spotting a squirrel, our attention will be diverted by something shiny flitting by.
When I first arrived in Alaska and saw domestic violence up close and personal, I was told there were lots of reasons for it. It was the darkness, the cold, the lack of activities, the poor economy, the dearth of jobs, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, lack of sanitation, despair, depression, denial – the list was seemingly endless.
While there was little we could do about the darkness and cold, the pipeline’s economic boom should have produced some sort of relief by bringing jobs and money to families. But instead of getting better, statistics on domestic violence seemed to get worse.
So then the explanation became that we had enough money to get better statistics and, having brought the problem out into the open, more women were reporting the abuse thus making the statistics rise. If that explanation is true, you’d think that after more than thirty years of battling this epidemic, the statistics would have either stabilized or gone down.
Instead, the Justice Center survey shows that previous surveys were still under-reporting the rate of domestic violence in our state. The survey’s results show one out of every two women in this state report being abused at some point in their life.
I’m one of those women. I know domestic violence intimately. I was lucky enough to get out of the relationship after just a few years. But that it took me even that long says something about the pathology that goes with being abused by the very person you look to for love, support and kindness.
I had never seen domestic violence while growing up. Yet I accepted it for almost three years before finding the courage to walk away. So I can only imagine how hard it is for women who grew up with domestic violence as a normal part of childhood to realize that this is not something they should have to endure. And way too many Alaskan women still grow up in homes where domestic violence is rampant.
Sadly, after thirty yeas of trying, we are faced with the fact that all the solutions we’ve employed to date do not seem to be making a dent in the problem. Don’t get me wrong. If just one woman and her children go to a shelter to escape the abuse, that shelter has justified its funding. But we need something more, something that will keep those shelters from being so depressingly filled year round.
So I’m thinking that maybe we’ve been focusing too much on the woman’s responsibility to get out of the relationship and get to safety. Maybe we need to focus more on the abusers. And by focus, I mean shine a big, bright sun-sized light on them so that they are totally shunned and embarrassed in their communities.
I propose that any man convicted of domestic violence should have his picture hung in the post office in his home community and his name read on the local radio station. This forces those communities to confront the abusers among them. On the assumption that the community does not define being a man by how hard they can beat a woman or child, this should hopefully cause the abuser shame.
Other men in the community will no longer be able to ignore what their compatriot has done, will no longer be able to shrug their shoulders and still have him as their hunting buddy or bowling partner. We need to make it so embarrassing to be seen with an abuser that good men in the community will no longer be willing to be their friend.
So let’s run pictures of abusers in the papers and hang them in community stores. Let’s read their names publicly at Sunday services and on radio and TV newscasts. Shine that light so brightly that there are no holes left in which the scum can hide.
Out them and shun them. That’s what real Alaskans would do.