The Kenai community held its 10th annual Choose Respect March on Wednesday.
Organized by volunteers and employees of the LeeShore Center, the event was meant to show solidarity with Alaskans marching all over state in order to raise awareness and promote prevention of sexual assault and domestic violence.
More than 50 peninsula residents marched from Leif Hansen Memorial Park to the Kenai Visitor’s Center. Local state troopers and Kenai police also joined in the procession, holding signs and guiding the marchers down Frontage Road along the Kenai Spur Highway.
After arriving at the visitor’s center, marchers were treated to a free lunch and a raffle.
The marchers also had the opportunity to hear several speakers while at the visitor’s center. Elaina Spraker, regional director for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office, read a letter from the senator to the marchers expressing his support for the event. Spraker told the story of how Sullivan originally pushed to create the Choose Respect initiative while he was the attorney general for Alaska.
Spraker explained that Sullivan was touring the state 10 years ago as part of former Gov. Sean Parnell’s Taskforce on Domestic Violence when a group of women in one rural community told him of a young woman who was raped by a family member.
“I knew that sexual abuse is a huge problem in our state. But there was something about that particular story that broke my heart, and steeled my resolve to do all I could do to stop it,” Sullivan said in the letter. Spraker said that soon after Sullivan returned to Parnell with his findings, Choose Respect posters were being put up in schools and marches were being held around the state.
Sullivan also authored the POWER Act last year that aimed to increase the public resources available for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the POWER Act was signed into law in September of 2018.
Michelle Blackwell from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Soldotna office read a letter from the senator that expressed her support for the movement.
“Through gatherings like this, we honor the strength of the survivors among us, and know that healing is possible,” Murkowski said in the letter. “I do not suggest that by simply coming together to announce as a community that we choose respect, that the epidemic will end. But perhaps it will inspire one person to stop, to think, to get help, and to refrain from hurtful action. That in itself makes today worthwhile.”
Finally, Renee Lipps, the prevention coordinator for the LeeShore Center, spoke about the importance of prevention efforts in reducing the rates of sexual assault and domestic violence. Lipps explained that a big part of prevention is spreading awareness about the causes and signs of adverse childhood experiences, teen dating violence, intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
Lipps also touched on the Peninsula’s Green Dot program, which is an initiative that encourages bystanders to intervene in ways that are safe for the bystander and the victim when they see instances of domestic violence or sexual assault taking place.