Dozens of Kenai Peninsula residents gathered this week to take a stand against domestic violence and sexual assault.On Tuesday, scores of people marched from the Leif Hansen Memorial Park to the Kenai Visitor Center as part of the LeeShore Center’s sixth annual Choose Respect event, to raise domestic abuse and sexual assault awareness.
Alaska has a high rate of domestic violence. On the Kenai Peninsula, it is estimated that out of every 100 women, 52 have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both, according to a 2013 Survey conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.
To bring attention to such statistics, many prominent members of the community took part in Tuesday’s event.
Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and representatives from the offices of senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan marched with community members.
During the walk, Susie Stafford, night advocate for the LeeShore Center said she was grateful to be able to participate and thankful that the Choose Respect event promotes an important cause.
“I’m extremely happy,” she said. “LeeShore helped me 20 years ago get out of domestic violence, so (participating in the event is a way) to pay it forward,” Stafford said.
Stafford was also pleased that many men were on hand to participate in the event.
“It makes (the LeeShore Center) happy,” Stafford said. “Get the whole family involved.”
Upon completing the short walk, participants gathered inside the visitor center and heard from several speakers, including Cheri Smith, the LeeShore Center’s executive director.
Smith said that community support for the LeeShore Center was vital. She said last year alone, the center accommodated 143 women and children in the emergency shelter. Moreover, the center recorded more than 7,700 overnight stays, 850 crisis calls and 9,000 home safety checks.
“We would not be able to do what we’re doing without the community’s support,” she said.
Smith said that in her 20 years with the center, she has seen the community become more receptive to understanding the problems of domestic abuse.
“I’ve certainly seen a lot of changes over the years,” she said. “There was a lot of victim-blaming years ago, and a lot of misunderstanding of domestic violence and sexual assault. We certainly didn’t talk about it. And anything to do with child sexual assault — that was a taboo subject. Now we have all this great support.”
Alaska First Lady Donna Walker was originally scheduled to speak, but an injury prevented her from making the trip to Kenai. However, Elizabeth Shultz, a representative from the governor’s office, read a speech on her behalf.
“Every Alaskan deserves to be safe and free from violence in their homes, in their relationships and in their communities. Now is the time to take action, and we as a state are committed to do so,” said Shultz, reading from Walker’s address.
In Walker’s speech, the idea of empowering the people of Alaska was stressed.
“While we are still working on eliminating violence, it is my truest hope that we are entering a time when we are no longer silent, and all victims can find their voice,” according to the Walker speech, as read by Shultz.
Reach Ian Foley at email@example.com.