OPINION: Half of women in Alaska have suffered through domestic violence
October 13th | Carey Restino
Think of all the women you came into contact with in your day-to-day business today. This week. This month. Think of all the girls in your child's class. Think of all the women in church. Think of school board members, grocery store cashiers, the women who are your neighbors. Half of them — every other one — has been or will be the victim of domestic violence at some point in their life.
We don't want to believe that, but in Alaska, it's true. Most of us have a hard time imagining more than a couple of people who we could even imagine being abused by a domestic partner, let alone imagining that 50 percent of our female friends and neighbors have been verbally or physically abused. It's more comfortable to imagine that it's one of those things I like to call an S.E.P — Somebody Else's Problem.
But it's not. Domestic violence is, in fact, everyone in Alaska's problem. Even if you're one of the lucky few whose life has never been turned upside down by domestic violence, the impacts of this epidemic continue to reverberate. Imagine that the child who is sitting next to your child at school witnessed his mother being hit last night. Imagine she's angry, or scared, or numb, and acts out as a result. That impacts your child. Imagine the woman who has been hit is driving a car next to you on the road. Imagine she's distracted, worrying about what to do next, and doesn't notice you are indicating a turn. Imagine the man who hit his wife is joking about it with your adult son at the bar. What is your son learning? How will that impact his life?
No one in this state, especially, acts in isolation. You can't even walk into the Alaska section of the Seattle airport without recognizing three or four people you know, no matter how far from home you are. We know each other here. And what hurts one of us hurts all of us.
So why is it so hard to find the cure for domestic violence? Why is it so hard for people who need help, both the abuser and the abused, to get the help they need. Mainly, I think it's because it's still not socially acceptable. It's a taboo subject. We don't ask our friends about the bruise on their arm or cheek. And equally destructive, men are not taught that there is honor in asking for help to find ways to deal with their anger. Until we learn that lashing out is counterproductive, reactive responses will continue to erode our families and society.
This month, let's all try to do a little better. We can do that in big ways, like reaching out to help volunteer at a local shelter for victims of domestic violence, or in equally important ways, like teaching your children how to work through frustration and anger without explosive reactions.
We can pledge, also, to stop the cycle of silence by offering support to those around you who may be struggling. That doesn't mean you have to march right up and ask all your neighbors if their husbands hit them and if they need help. It might just be thinking of those in your life who could use a little help, and being a good friend. When those people know the door is open, that someone cares about them, it may provide them with the strength they need to change their situation.
Most of all, however, we need to stop pretending domestic violence doesn't exist, all around us. We need to stop looking the other way, or laughing at someone who is joking about being violent with his or her partner. When we see flags that someone is in trouble, we need to step up and offer help.
Alaskans have done some pretty amazing things — we survive in a land that would bring many fellow humans to their knees, we work hard, play hard, and live simply, compared to many in this nation. We are independent folks, who cherish our privacy, in many cases. But this is one of those times where that inclination is our downfall.
When it comes to domestic violence, silence is dangerous, and failing to offer help can be deadly. And when half of the women in this state are still subjected to such cruelty, in a day and age when we all know it's wrong, legally and morally, there's a problem. Let's make this month the month we take action to change that.