"...change can happen, one individual at a time, just like a ripple in the ocean."

I recently googled the word “rape” and found a CNN article citing the FBI’s 2012 national crime report. The report lists rape statistics by state and I was surprised to learn that Alaska, the state with the nation’s lowest population density, has the highest rape rate. One common misconception is that rape happens more often in densely populated areas like, Washington, D.C. and New York.

In Alaska, 80 incidents of rape are reported for every 100,000 people, far higher than the national average of 27 per 100,000.   By contrast, New Jersey (11.7 per 100,00) and New York (14.6 per 100,000) have the two lowest rape rates in the country. It’s important to note that these figures reflect only those rapes that are officially reported to law enforcement.  This is significant because rape is extremely underreported in the U.S. and the real numbers are much larger. The article also includes a link to a second piece by the same writer, John Sutter, entitled, “5 Ways to help end rape in Alaska. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/03/opinion/sutter-alaska-rape-change/index.html)

Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell, not Palin, has started a campaign called “Choose Respect” which takes on the silencing of rape and domestic violence survivors (http://www.alaskamenchooserespect.org/). Importantly, the campaign includes men in the conversations and interventions. It’s remarkable this Republican governor is calling for an increase in spending on sexual assault treatment and prevention.  While other politicians talk of “legitimate rape” and push state laws requiring “rape insurance,” Gov. Parnell is taking a firm stand on the issue of violence against women, describing it, in his own words, as “an epidemic”.

According to Sutter’s article, Parnell is approaching this issue just as he would any other public health concern, such as alcoholism or addiction. Alaska has decided to bring the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence out in the open by initiating a conversation on these subjects and financially supporting programs that work with children and local communities to prevent violence before it happens.  Parnell has also pledged to increase funds for services for survivors.

New York state may have the second lowest number of rapes reported by the FBI, but, in the last few years, its legislature has consistently cut funding for programs addressing gender violence. According to the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, providers working with survivors of sexual assault have had to decrease their services, implement waiting lists for counseling and support groups, and limit financial assistance to survivors.  Some programs have had to eliminate these programs altogether and are struggling to maintain 24-hour intervention services.  Sadly, as New York state funding decreased by 25% from 2007 to 2014, the number of reported rapes from 2011 to 2013 increased by 65% (http://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-state-senate-increase-new-york-state-funding-for-rape-crisis-programs).

While Alaska is promoting innovative interventions to prevent sexual violence before it occurs, and providing more resources to service providers who work with survivors, New York state’s lawmakers are saying, “Forgetaboutit!” They are decreasing support, making it more difficult to prevent violence and provide services when it occurs.  Sexual violence needs to be seen as a public health issue that requires comprehensive funding for services for survivors and interventions that address the root causes of sexual and gender-based violence.

This blog is a call to action. Whether you live in Alaska and want to join the “Choose Respect” campaign, or reside in New York and are willing to email or phone your state representatives in Albany to demand an increased funding for services for rape survivors, it’s imperative that you act. If you don’t live in either of these states, or can’t contribute to these activities, you can still have a conversation with a friend, co-worker or family member about social norms that foster sexual and gender-based violence.  It may seem as if an individual can’t have a meaningful impact on society, but if each of us takes responsibility and acts, change can happen, one individual at a time, just like a ripple in the ocean.

Dani E.