‘Choose Respect’ puts spotlight on abuse issue
John S. Hagen photo
Residents walk down Main Street Friday during the “Choose Respect” march sponsored by the Haines Domestic Violence Task Force and the State of Alaska. The task force is aiming to raise awareness about domestic violence and members are lobbying the state to ramp up prosecution in abuse cases.
Leona Santiago, who grew up in Front Street’s Raven House, recounted her experience of abuse from a partner in Seattle during last week’s “Choose Respect” rally in Haines.
“I was a little mouse. I had no self-esteem. My son was being abused. I knew I had to get out of that relationship, but I didn’t know how,” Santiago told about 30 people gathered at the public library.
Santiago now serves as rural outreach coordinator for the AWARE women’s shelter in Juneau. Haines residents suffering abuse can have their way paid to the Juneau shelter, she said.
Jackie Mazeikas, domestic violence health educator in Haines, told the group abuse comes in many forms, including bullying and elder abuse.
Domestic assaults were an “accepted thing in society,” when Haines Borough Police Chief Gary Lowe started as an officer 35 years ago, Lowe told the crowd.
“If we got a (domestic abuse) call, we told them to go to separate bedrooms and call us in the morning. Everyone just accepted that kind of behavior,” Lowe said.
In recent decades, society has recognized that it’s wrong to abuse family members. Also, because family members won’t speak up for themselves, there are mandatory arrest laws if police see signs of abuse, Lowe said.
Police, however, are a small part of the equation, Lowe said. “It takes friends and neighbors, all of us to solve this problem.”
Lowe expressed concern about prosecution of domestic violence assaults, saying convictions are typically on charges reduced from more serious ones.
Of 17 domestic-violence related charges brought locally in 2010, there were only three domestic-violence convictions, Lowe said. In 2011, 17 domestic-violence charges resulted in six convictions on domestic violence charges, he said.
“The (district attorney) does an excellent job prosecuting DUIs and felonies but half of our arrests in the last two years have been misdemeanor assaults, and of those, all but two were dismissed. That’s what we have to address,” Lowe said.
Rick Svobodny, deputy attorney general for the state’s criminal division, this week expressed skepticism at Lowe’s complaint. “When people give numbers, they have to give facts (involved in the cases),” Svobodny said.
Svobodny said 95 percent of cases in Alaska are resolved with plea agreements but suggested that’s not unreasonable. “Do people in Haines want 100 jury trials a year? I don’t think people would stand for that.”