Commentary: Level of sexual assault, domestic violence is unacceptable

By Debra Call
For The Cordova Times

Over the last several years, we have continually heard devastating reports about crime in Alaska. The headlines get worse and worse until finally news outlets started reporting that Alaska was the most dangerous state in the country. Women in Alaska are murdered at three times the national average. Domestic violence and sexual assault are epidemics statewide. It is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, recent headlines have only underscored these unacceptable trends. We all mourned with Kotzebue and prayed for Ashley Johnson-Barr and her family. And we all watched with outrage as the Schneider case unfolded.

I’ve mourned with my fellow Alaskans, but there is something deeper. As an Alaska Native woman, while I know the statewide statistics are devastating, the reality can be even worse for too many Alaska Native women and rural communities.

While Alaska Native women and girls are less than 10 percent of the total population, they comprised almost half of the victims of felony sex offenses last year. In Western Alaska, felony sex offenses are 106 percent above the statewide average.

And over the last four years, our elected leaders haven’t just failed to make things better, they have actually gotten worse.

We can – and we must do better. It will take real leadership and a comprehensive plan if we want to make Alaska communities – from Juneau to Nunam Iqua safer.

This is one of many reasons I’m so proud to be running for Lt. Governor with Mark Begich. Mark rolled out his comprehensive Keeping Alaska Families Safe plan in July. We’ve both been traveling the state and talking to Alaskans about how to keep our communities safe – in both urban and rural Alaska.

As Mark has explained, there has been a systemic failure to address the exploding opioid epidemic and increasing crime within our communities which has led Alaska to have the highest rates of crime in the nation. This is unacceptable.

From addressing the opioid epidemic, substance abuse and mental health issues to fully staffing the Departments of Public Safety, Law, and Correction and disrupting the “business” of drugs criminals have been getting away with for too long, we are offering real and ready-to-implement solutions.

We must also bridge the gap between urban and rural law enforcement. That’s why I strongly support Mark’s plan to cross-train village police officers (VPOs) and village public safety officers (VPSOs). Mark has proposed an exchange program that gives VPOs and VPSOs the opportunity to interact directly with law enforcement from across the state. This would include VPOs and VPSOs training in urban areas with police and State Troopers as well as urban officers spending time in our rural communities.

While Mike Dunleavy has said that he is “too busy campaigning” to share his crime plan with Alaskans, Mark Begich and I are busy talking to Alaskans about our detailed, comprehensive plans because Alaskans deserve to know how their leaders will keep them and their families safe.

While I have never run a campaign or served in public office before, I am Dena’ina Athabascan with deep roots in Alaska and I know we can do better. My grandmother set up her fish camp on the beach of Cook Inlet. She fed 13 kids with fish she caught and raised her family on our ancestral land.

One of the best ways to honor my grandmother’s efforts to protect her family is to ensure Alaskans today have the opportunity to live in safe, healthy and successful communities all across the state. We have all seen what a difference it makes when we come together and support Mark’s vision. With his leadership and your support, I know we can do it again.

I am proud to be a part of the Begich-Call ticket and I hope you will join our team. Our children are counting on us.

Debra Call, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Alaska, is the vice president of the Knik Tribal Council, but on leave for the duration of the campaign.