Ruth Fairall said that when she was 8 years old and for the following three years, she was sexually abused by an older brother.
Fairall, 78, told her story at last week’s “March for Respect” event Thursday at the Haines ANB Hall. Fairall said her brother threatened her and that she didn’t bring the abuse to the attention of her parents because they were already having problems. “I thought it would break up the family. I was a fixer,” she said.
The abuse stopped when her family moved and living arrangements changed, Fairall said. She found solace in religion. “As I got older I realized the Lord was my protector… You survive.”
Fairall, who has difficulty walking, said she completed the march down Main Street in hopes that no one should have to relive her experience.
“We need to be teaching children from the time they’re 2, to respect everything and everyone and never touch anyone unless they want to be touched. That includes hitting and socking and everything else,” she said.
Sexual abuse of children remains a problem in Alaska. According to a 2010 “victimization survey” conducted by the state, 74 percent of the victims of sexual crimes in Alaska State Troopers reports were under 18 years old. The report also found that rape occurs in Alaska at a rate of 2.5 times the national average.
About 25 residents turned out to march and hear speeches at the ANB Hall on domestic abuse, defined as domestic violence, and abuse of elders and children.
Hill called abuse “one of those issues we need to get into people’s faces about. We can’t sit back and hope that other people are going to do something about it. We all need to be involved.”
Jackie Mazeikas heads up a domestic violence awareness office in Haines. She said that in the past month she helped three people leave situations where they suffered physical abuse, and that she helps about a dozen people – plus several children – leave Haines every year because of it.
“I receive numerous phone calls weekly from parents, grandparents and individuals seeking information on domestic violence and sexual abuse,” Mazeikas said, estimating that four to six people stop by her Main Street office every week for personal discussions about the topic.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams spoke of the need for a continuing commitment from the community to address the problem of abuse. Stopping the cycle requires supporting victims and treating offenders, she said. “The entire process requires that we come together as a community.”
Chilkat elder Joe Hotch also addressed the need for compassion. “The person who’s doing the abusing needs help, too, more than the person who’s being abused.” He said respect is at the top of values held by Tlingit and Haida peoples. “I have to be concerned right now, and not wait for it to come to my door.”
Mazeikas can be reached at her office, #27 in the Gateway Building on Main Street. The number there is 766-6382. A free, 24-hour helpline can be reached at 1-877-294-0074.