Gov. Sean Parnell counts himself lucky. Unlike many households in Alaska, he grew up in a home free from domestic violence and sexual abuse.
"I was blessed to be raised in a home where I did not know what domestic violence and sexual assault were," he said. "It wasn't until I was a state House member in the middle '90s, early '90s, when I went on some ride-alongs with some police officers and troopers that I saw the carnage in our homes from domestic violence and sexual assault. I saw it across the economic span, from poor to rich. I saw it an all kinds of neighborhoods."
That's why, Parnell said, he sponsored and got passed the Domestic Violence Protection Act while in the Legislature, and why he's taken up the fight again as governor with his Choose Respect campaign. He said down with the Frontiersman recently for an interview about the campaign and its goals in fighting a problem that has Alaska No. 1 per capita in the United States for domestic violence and sexual assault.
Being the governor of the state that leads the nation in that statistic "hurts," Parnell said. "There's no question that the epidemic numbers are killing Alaskans. We can talk and act to improve our economy, but if our people are hurting inside their homes, they can't get a job or perform effectively in a job or be parents to their kids."
This year, the Frontiersman and Alaska Family Services have expanded Parnell's effort with the Valley Men Choose Respect initiative, where local men lend their voices to the fight against domestic violence.
"That's exactly what this is about -- Alaskans standing up for other Alaskans," he said. "For men in particular to choose to be publically accountable for using their strength to protect and defend rather than to manipulate and control I think is awesome."
Eliminating domestic violence and sexual assault from our homes is a cultural problem, not just a legal one, Parnell said, and it starts from birth by modeling behaviors that don't use violence or assault as tools to an end.
"I think especially when you're speaking about men and boys, for example, when a young boy learns to value another human being, like his mom, because of the way his dad treats his mom, I think that boy will model that behavior in his future relationships," he said. "It's also a bigger picture. It really is about replacing a culture of fear with one of respect and opportunity."
Parnell said the words "Choose Respect" are powerful and meaningful. First, because acting on violent feelings in inappropriate ways is a choice. Second, respect is a word that all people and cultures can understand at a root level.
"It's a word that transcends cultures, from the Alaska Native culture to the Samoan culture to the Caucasian culture and European cultures, it is a value embraced by all," he said.