October 23, 2014 — Violence against women has become "a regular topic on the campaign trail" in Alaska this election year, especially in the state's governor's race, the Los Angeles Times reports.
High Rates of Violence Against Women
According to the Times, Alaska has the highest rate of "forcible rape" in the U.S. -- triple the national average. The state also has the highest rate of men killing women and among the highest rates of domestic violence. In addition, Alaska has the third-highest percentage of women who have been raped or experienced "physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner," with 44.2% of Alaskan women having endured such violence during their lifetime.
Amanda Price, executive director of Anchorage-based Standing Together Against Rape, said the issue of violence against women "has not been this front and center before" in elections, but that "[o]ur rates of violence are so high up here that anyone who is considering running has to have a stance on the issue or there's no hope for them."
Alaska National Guard Scandal Draws Attention
Allegations of widespread sexual assault and related investigatory failures in the Alaska National Guard have also helped put the issue of violence against women at the forefront on the campaign trail in the state, the Times reports.
Sen. Mark Begich (D) and his opponent Dan Sullivan (R) have addressed the issue, but it has been particularly prominent in the state's gubernatorial race.
The Anchorage Daily News broke the Guard story about a year ago, reporting that Guard chaplains said they notified Gov. Sean Parnell (R), the commander-in-chief of the Guard, in 2010 that sexual assault survivors have been telling them about abuse for years. However, no changes were made after Parnell was told of the allegations, they said.
A report released in September by the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations found that sexual assault allegations prior to 2012 had not been properly documented, that survivors had not been referred to survivor advocates and that Guard officials did not protect those who reported the allegations to the extent that "in some cases, the victims were ostracized by their leaders, peers and units."
Parnell Now in Close Election
Parnell, after being elected governor by a comfortable margin in 2010, is now in a contentious race against Bill Walker (I), according to the Times.
In response to an Oct. 1 debate question on the candidates' plans to reduce violence against women, Walker brought up the Guard scandal, saying, "When someone comes to my office as governor to tell me about sexual assault going on in the National Guard, I'll do an investigation immediately. I will not wait four years."
Parnell called that charge "an absolute falsehood" and said his administration was working on "complete reform" of the Guard and would hold assailants of the "atrocious acts" accountable. On Wednesday, Parnell released a video on his efforts to reduce violence against women in which he mentioned that "some allegations were made" in 2010, which he took seriously and investigated (La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, 10/21).