He is the monster under my bed, saboteur of my dreams. His résumé includes schoolteacher, felon and, more recently, retired country “gentleman.” He is a specter of my past, a stalker who lurks within waiting to spring into view and set my heart pounding. He is the Devil at my doorstep, progenitor of my greatest fears. Most poignantly, though, his blood is my own. He is my father.
Only last week I was startled awake after 3 a.m. by a house-rattling “bang!” It was him. He was in the hallway outside my closed bedroom door, beating my mother. My mother screamed and, smothered by darkness and too terrified to move I cowered beneath my blankets, trembling as I had so many times more than 45 years before.
The impulse is to sneer and shout: Let it go already! Take responsibility for your life and move on, for Christ’s sake. Stop blaming your father. Be a man.
Perhaps those jeers are his; the voice delivering them, after all, sounds familiar. But the fear is imbedded deeply within, like a virus. And it’s not going away. Ever. The heart-racing terror I felt in the wee hours last Tuesday was as sheer and stark as any imaginable. The roars and screams, the breaking glass and panic of decades ago were not nightmares. They were real.
That is how a colleague of mine— a professionally successful and well-regarded associate, and a middle-aged survivor of domestic violence— described a recent nightmare. Similar frightening dreams, once common, haunt him less frequently now, he says. But the scars remain. And the horrors reflected above, along with others far worse, will remain with him – and his mother, and his sister – forever. Healing from domestic violence is a lifelong endeavor.
Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse in domestic relationships is endemic to Alaska – our cities, suburbs, and rural areas – and prevalent nationwide. Each year, millions of Americans are threatened, beaten, or sexually assaulted in their own homes by family members or domestic partners. Victims include women (59 percent of adult women in Alaska experience intimate partner or sexual violence in their lifetimes), children (nationally, 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90 percent of them are eyewitnesses to this violence), and men (1 in 4 men nationwide have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner).
These survivors are the walking wounded of an undercurrent that spans all cultures and corners of our society. There is no community, gender, nor race spared. The ripple effects may crippling and long-lasting. Children who witness or experience violence in their homes are at a higher risk of substance abuse, incarceration, depression, health issues, and suicide.
Often, well-intended words are spoken or put to paper that talk about changing the societal acceptance, ending domestic violence, and supporting survivors. The question is, how can we halt a blight that has smoldered behind closed doors for decades?
Changing societal acceptance in Alaska requires collaborative partnerships. The real actions needed are more efforts with a targeted eye on supporting victims and keeping Alaskans safe. Under this administration, the following partnerships and actions are underway:
- More federal funds than ever before have been awarded by Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA), a council within DPS, to 26 emergency shelter and victim services programs throughout Alaska, from Emmonak, to Craig, to Kotzebue, to Nome and more
- New funding is being released from the CDVSA to support Child Advocacy Centers, trauma informed child victim mental health and legal support services
- $6 million will be released to rural communities by DPS in partnership with the federal government to improve public safety infrastructure like holding facilities, office space for peace officers
- More troopers hired in the last ten months than has been brought on during hiring cycles for more than a decade (DPS anticipates even more troopers, another 50, will be hired in calendar year 2020)
- Laws to protect victims and hold offenders accountable were passed, and a repeal of the catch and release, offender friendly SB 91 was finally realized.
- All backlogged sexual assault kits, including those collected decades ago, will be processed by September 2021
- A prosecutor and an investigator dedicated to cold cases have been hired to bring justice to families related to the previously unprocessed sexual assault kits
- In the last nine months, three arrests were made in conjunction to decades old missing/murdered cases in which the victims were women
Despite this great work underway, there is so much more to be done. Let’s make this October, which Gov. Dunleavy proclaimed as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the beginning of a new age. The challenges Alaska faces are real but not insurmountable.
To my colleague, who bravely and selflessly shared his own personal and real-time story and trauma of domestic violence – thank you. To every survivor who marches, lobbies, writes letters, shares their story and takes it steps further by fighting in communities to across the state to keep yourselves and your neighbors safe – thank you. You matter. YOU matter. Let’s work together, every community, every group, every neighborhood, every person, to make it clear that domestic violence will never be tolerated.