Dirty little secrets

As you read this, the odds are good a woman is being beaten by her husband, fiance, boyfriend, partner or the like somewhere in the 49th state. A 2010 study by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center found almost 60 percent of Alaska women  have experienced physical or sexual violence from what the study called an “intimate partner.”

The state’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault believes “Alaska’s domestic violence, sexual assault prevention efforts are working” because a 2015 survey found the percentage of victims had dropped to 50 percent. The state did not disclose the margin of error in the survey.

Depending on that number, it is quite possible nothing has changed at all, but let’s ignore that, and accept the new number at face value. Think about this: Only half the women in this state are physically or sexually assaulted, and we think that’s progress?

One in every two women is beaten or sexually abused, and we aren’t outraged? It’s almost enough to make me want to hit someone upside the head with a baseball bat.

Right there, it should be obvious a man is writing this. It’s the testosterone thing. We can argue about how much power that chemical exerts, but there’s no denying the hormonal factor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to argue biology is destiny because I don’t believe it. All of us get potty trained. We learn that crapping in our pants isn’t acceptable (or pleasant), and we modify our behavior accordingly.

Still, the scientist in me is willing to accept that testosterone “manifests itself in various intensities and forms from thoughts, anger, verbal aggressiveness, competition, dominance behavior, to physical violence” as a 2012 study reported in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism concluded.

In simple terms, the study said angry men have a harder time with self-control because they’re all juiced up on T, and given that we all get angry at times, you can see the problem.

Men need to do more than “Choose Respect,” as the old state advertising campaign encouraged them to do. They need to invest some serious effort in acting respectful even when their raging hormones are lobbying them do otherwise.

Real-life ugliness

The domestic violence issue has been haunting me since weeks ago stumbling on a story demanding to be reported.

Both the attacker and the victim at the center are Alaska C-list celebrities, maybe C-minus, maybe even D.

Neither of them have the last name Palin. We might as well get that out of the way quick before any speculation starts. The people involved in this case have been in the public eye way less than the Palins, and the portrayals have always been favorable.

But the truth about what goes on when they’re not on the public stage is ugly.

He’s already been convicted at least once of domestic violence. He’s broken her arm, she and other witnesses say. He is scheduled for trial yet again this month for another domestic violence assault.

She has gone back repeatedly.  She doesn’t want to talk about the situation. She’s told law enforcement authorities she loves him and that he’s wonderful except when he isn’t. It’s a classic story.

“Leaving is not easy,” says The National Domestic Violence Hotline. “On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good.”

The woman involved in the Alaska case appears to be up to at least four, and yet there is a photo of her hugging him in March on his Facebook page. Obviously, letting go is proving hard no matter how bad the alternative.

It takes a village

As with so many stories, this one started with a rumor. It was a rumor at first a little hard to believe. The unbelievability only grew with the reporting.

A couple people confessed they’d known of the abuse for years, but neither said nor did anything because “we’re all friends.”

This is a strange definition of friendship. You know a man is regularly beating on a woman and you ignore it because “we are all friends”?

But maybe it’s me.

God knows I grew up at a time when this nation was changing for the better and my parents sent me to church camp to learn to sing “We Shall Overcome” in preparation for getting on buses to join antidiscrimination protests in the Deep South.

I was 12 years old when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law and this country started trying to retreat from its racist history. I went from learning antidiscrimination protest songs to protesting against one of the few things on which my father and I agreed at the time, the Vietnam War.

“The wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons,” he said, and he was no pacifist. Only 13 when World War II started, he enlisted in the Army at age 17 hoping to get in the fight. He had strong beliefs about doing the right thing. He once threatened to “beat the shit” out of a neighbor after catching the man punching his wife.

Maybe that somehow filtered down.

Whatever the case, I found it near impossible to understand how “friends” would turn their backs on domestic violence, and pretty difficult to understand how others in the know would say that it really was “none of my business.”

All of this “none of my business” stuff seemed little more than an explanation for why so many women are victims of physical and sexual violence in this state. It got to the point it almost seemed there was some shared view (both men and women reflected it in interviews) that it is OK to treat women like misbehaving dogs.

Or worse.

But animals were another issue here, too. There were a lot of them involved on the periphery of this case, and there are a number of studies out there suggesting a strong link between domestic violence and animal abuse. I heard some stories about the abuser and dogs that could not be independently verified and thus should not be repeated.

Journalistic hypocrisy

That I am now writing about the responsibility of everyone to do something about the abuser next door instead of actually writing a story about the abuser next door makes me look like a bit of a hypocrite I know, and there is really little justification to hide behind.

What has gone down in this case is documented in court records, and public records are an absolute defense against libel and invasion of privacy in this country. There is no legal risk to the publisher of this website in reporting the story.

There is only the issue of public fallout, and I’m simply tired of public fallout. A couple weeks ago, revealed that a day after two front-running mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race were attacked by one or more snowmachiners on the Yukon River, a musher at the back of the pack was also assaulted along that river.

The musher happened to be a woman. She was, according to a later Associated Press story, “groped,” although the AP did not reveal where it got that information. The Iditarod Trail Committee said musher Sarah Stokey was inappropriately touched, which could mean almost anything. An Alaska State Trooper said she was touched on the butt.

The AP did not name Stokey in its story and suggested she “may have been a victim of a sex crime.” A state prosecutor with direct knowledge of what happened told this website that the case would warrant “harassment” charges, but that there was no indication of any sort of sex crime.

Long-time Iditarod supporter and former Nome mayor Leo Rasmussen has suggested that another  musher on the scene yelling at Stokey to hit the men with the ax in her sled might have prevented the incident from escalating into something far worse. Whatever the case, the incident had to be terrifying for a young woman from the East Coast running her first Iditarod.

But Stokey has said nothing about what happened other than to post a statement on this website saying she was “very happy with how the Iditarod was handling this incident and that I was also extremely happy at how they were looking to ensure the safety of all mushers on this section of trail, and others, moving forward.”

How the Iditarod is “handling the incident” and what, if anything, it has done to “ensure the safety of all mushers on this section of trail and others” is unknown because there hasn’t been a peep out of Iditarod about doing anything.

As to there being an Iditarod problem , Stokey left little doubt.

“I am extremely disappointed that Craig Medred is trying to use what happened to his own personal advantage and am sincerely disappointed at his decision to continually focus on the negative aspects of Iditarod and on my race,” she wrote. “I told him that this was not the type of publicity I wanted, nor did I think it would help this situation or the relations between racers and villagers.

There are many issues in Alaska these days that have “negative aspects,” and it’s pretty clear there a good number of people who don’t want to talk about “negative aspects.”

Stokey was joined by others — a lot of them women — who thought it somehow wrong to report an Iditarod story viewed as “negative.” A few, like the AP, viewed the attack as a sexual assault. Others thought that somehow reporting it “stigmatized” Stokey or “victimized the victim.” And a bunch basically thought that what happens on the Iditarod Trail should stay on the Iditarod Trail, which seemed to reflect Stokey’s view.

As one woman put it in a Facebook post, “It’s about respecting their (mushers’)  request for privacy.”

Some people don’t see much grey in the news. They divide it into “good” news and “bad” news, and in some cases all they want is the “good” news. And they’re all happy to pile on the entity reporting the “bad” news as some self-serving ass somehow engaged in “slanting” the news for some vile personal reason.

I will confess to mine: I believe #goodjournalismmatters. It’s stupid. I know. But I believe it.

Domestic violence, sadly however, is not good news. It’s just more bad news.

And I’m not sure I want to invite another outburst of anger  by opening a new can of worms by reporting on a domestic violence case that both parties appear to consider a “private matter.” Neither do I want to listen to or read anymore lectures on journalism from people who don’t know enough about news reporting to distinguish it from  the propaganda they don’t even notice delivered daily through their computer by a media that spends most of its time doing stenography for gangs of spinmeisters.

Domestic violence in Alaska is one of those things Alaskans need to talk about, even if, like so many other difficult issues in this state, everyone wants to avoid it. But on this one I’m not sure I want to start the conversation.

Journalistic cowardice

Someone, however, needs to get up the nerve to write about it. Some journalist needs to rise above cowardice and do the right thing. This is, of course, easier to say than to do. There is a reason acts of bravery make the news. It’s because they are so rare.

On that level, this is about more than one story. There are a lot of stories going unreported in this state because of a lack of journalistic will to pursue them. A reporter long gone from the old Anchorage Daily News and now living Outside listed at least a half-dozen in a telephone conversation the other day.

There was a time, he added, when even if you couldn’t get a story in the ADN, the state’s dominant news sources, because the editors didn’t want to touch it for fear or political reasons, you could leak it elsewhere, and it would eventually surface. Those days are largely gone.

Television news — a generally shallow medium from its very beginnings — is with only a few occasional exceptions even shallower now. Still evolving online media are broad, but not very deep. The new ADN is a little deeper, but sadly lacking in diversity and courage.

Casey Reynolds, a former radio talk-jock turned reporter of sorts at the “The Midnight Sun,” texted me weeks ago after asking some pointed questions at a legislative press conference only to discover such behavior was clearly unexpected if not unacceptable. What happened to the bad-old days of reporters pestering pols with tough questions, he wanted to know.

They are gone. I’m pretty confident that if anyone decides to pursue this domestic violence story they will be out there all alone. If other media chase, they will likely cover themselves, as the ADN did on the Stokey story, by quoting the folks who don’t think the news should be reported at all.

It is a great cover. You get the story out there, and then hide behind the shelter of the argument that “it was already in the news, and we just wanted to give the victim(s) her(his, their) chances to get her(his, their) views on record.”

This position is wholly understandable. Nobody in the news these days likes taking flak. Taking flak is no fun.

It’s a lot easier to do the easy thing than the right thing. It’s why you are here reading a story about a-story-that-isn’t instead of a story about-a-story that-is. It’s the easy story to write.

But there’s always hope. I believe in hope.
























6 replies »

  1. What a captivating article with the encompassed edge to continue a conversation on such a sensitive topic.

    I’m affixed in the articles’ lesser charge from the State prosecutor because I am a victim of horrific intimate partner abuse, I am a victim who has only had the ability to have my story on record, I too had the state prosecutor lessen charges for the nightmare my daughter and I lived through for over 2 hours – being found by GPS. Because it “was the charge they knew they could get.”

    We still live through the disregard of the State prosecutor and APD by them allowing the convict to harass us weekly. “He’s not hurting you now is he?” APD says.

    APD and the state prosecutor seem to have a game of personally interpreting “loop holes” in an elaborate Protective Order leaving the convict to live free as ever.

    If the statistics are down to 50% in 2015, it’s simply because after the 3 attempts of reporting the abuse (average of 7) Alaska makes it very clear that reporting is a waste of their time.

    You can’t expect the residents to practice respect when state representatives do not practice respect as community servants.

  2. Made me cry, born and raised here ( 4th generation ) did not have this in my family.. But saw it In my peripheral vision.. It left such a major impression on my life

  3. The problem of intimate partner violence is not one-sided and often involves mutual, non-defensive, violence: though women usually come out worse off in such exchanges as men are generally larger, stronger, and often more capable. While bidirectionality doesn’t let men off the hook in any way, focusing only on men doesn’t help solve the real problem of relationship violence, that people in relationships fail to find constructive ways to communicate and choose to use violence instead.

  4. There are many of us trying to draw attention. To how problematic, and rampant, domestic violence is nation wide. It’s a topic many simply do not wish to talk sbout. But every article helps bring awareness, which ultimately helps someone in need. Thank you.

  5. Excellent article and a sad reality that most Alaskans either don’t know about or choose to ignore. Putting it in the public eye helps. Men need to take responsibility for their actions and understand that we are raising another generation that looks to us about what is right and wrong.

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