ANCHORAGE, Alaska — So far this month, the outcry against Alaska’s high sexual assault rate has been heard from rallies across the state to Gov. Sean Parnell’s office. This weekend, that message will be taken to Downtown Anchorage drinking establishments as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Volunteers will gather at the Downtown police substation at 10 p.m. on Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16. From there, they will visit local bars and talk to patrons about how to prevent sexual assaults.
The volunteers will also hand out credit card-sized brochures small enough to fit in a purse or wallet. They’re lists of safety tips for women from rural Alaska, who may not be familiar with some of the dangers of city life, but they also have a contact list in case the women need help.
The effort is headed by the Alaska Native Women’s Sexual Assault Committee, a group which also includes law enforcement officials. It formed in response to the disproportionately high number of Native women who have been murdered and raped in Anchorage.
ANWSAC has been organizing outreach efforts in Downtown bars, known as “Meet and Greets,” since 2000. Linda McLaughlin, a victim’s advocate and trainer for the Alaska Native Justice Center, believes these outreach efforts are making a difference.
“It has been something positive,” McLaughlin said. "I really think someone who was vulnerable was kept safe because of this event.”
McLaughlin says a few years ago, she and a group of volunteers believe they may have prevented an assault. According to McLaughlin, a man at a bar had targeted an inebriated woman and kept asking the volunteers to leave and go on to another bar, apparently so he could make his move -- but the group remained with the woman until a cab arrived to take her home.
McLaughlin says the outreach effort is a way of showing women who are vulnerable to sexual assault that what happens to them matters, that the community cares about them. The hope is that this show of concern will encourage them to take precautions.
Over the years, she says, bartenders and patrons have become very receptive to the program. ANWSAC also conducts “Meet and Greets” during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.
McLaughlin says the high rate of sexual violence in rural communities is a sign of bigger problems.
“We as a people are hurting,” McLaughlin said. “And we need to reach out and ask the community to help us stop the violence.”
Contact Rhonda McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org