By Melinda Munson
Editor’s Note: Please be advised this content is not appropriate for young children.
It’s Sexaul Assault Awareness Month, but I don’t need a campaign to remind me. I live with the topic daily. It eats at my soul and steals my sleep. It determines the choices I make for my children minute by minute. I am hypervigilant because I have to be – and I’m not even a survivor.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have never experienced sexual violence. But the same can’t be said for many of my immediate family members, my extended family, my friends, and come to find out, my child.
I thought nothing could feel worse than the Mother’s Day I got a phone call from an adult family member pleading for help. She hadn’t made enough money that day and her pimp was threatening to put her in a cage. I tried to get her to enter a shelter for battered women. She lingered outside the building, reluctant to enter. I called the facility and begged the guard to invite her in. He did, but after a few days she left the bed bugs – and relative safety.
Fast forward to a few months ago. After conversations with a newly discovered birth relative, we belatedly realized neglect was not the only trauma our adopted child suffered before they came into our care. I don’t know who to be angry with. Obviously the abuser, but then there’s the social worker who didn’t see the signs and the judge who kept trying to force a toddler back into an unsafe birth home for two years.
I wonder when I’ll stop being angry. Probably never because every day my child has to pay the consequences for someone’s selfish, brutal choices. We try to mitigate the effects of the abuse with healthy behaviors. Side hugs, please. You don’t have to kiss us if you don’t want to. It’s your body. You get to decide what happens to it. There’s also therapy. These feel like small bandaids on a very large wound, particularly when you add in intellectual impairment.
The issues in my own home have led me to focus on the broader topic of sexual assault in the community. The newspaper hasn’t had a report of sexual violence in the two years I’ve resided here. It would be nice to believe that in a town where people leave the key in the car and an occasional passport in the dashboard that sexual assault doesn’t happen. But that would be a foolish conclusion.
Alaska, tragically, has four times the rate of sexual violence than the rest of the nation and 1/3 of its women have experenced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime, according to ProPublica. It’s safe to say that sexual violence happens in Skagway, and statistically, at a rate higher than the lower 48. It’s just not often reported by survivors, who perhaps feel powerless or unworthy.
As seasonal workers and tourists start to trickle in and the population rises, along with alcohol consumption, please bear a few things in mind.
• Sexual assault can happen to all genders.
• There’s a new police chief in town, JJ Reddick. I can vouch that his team will handle any reports of sexual violence with compassion and professionalism.
• Dahl Memorial Clinic is equipped with rape kits and a female technician. According to Reddick and Medical Director Brent Kunzler, the clinic’s kits are admissible in court should the survivor choose to press charges.
• The clinic can also run blood work if a person is concerned their beverage was drugged.
• Currently, Skagway has no official survivor advocacy program. Contact Assemblymember Deb Potter if you are interested in training to become an advocate.
• The number one and only cause of rape is rapists.
Sexual violence is difficult to talk about. Sometimes I get emotional and the words get lodged in my throat, which is why I write them on this page. I hope I can become more skilled in speaking about a topic that affects nearly half the population. I hope we can place the shame and stigma where it belongs – on the abuser, and allow survivors to move forward unfettered by judgment or criticism.
For more information, visit rainn.org or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.