Heidi Zemach for SCN -
A group of 30 men and women marched down Fourth Avenue, Seward’s main downtown street late Thursday afternoon, March 27th to support the cause of ending the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska. These annual “Choose Respect” march and rallies that happen across the state are sponsored and promoted by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell’s office, but are organized locally by the social service agencies such as SeaView Community Services, that receive state grants to provide help to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
This year’s event fell on the same day and time as the 50th anniversary of the ’64 Alaska Earthquake, and many, including those in Seward, were busy attending their local commemorations.
“This year our numbers were about 20 short of last year due to all the events that day, but with us walking down Fourth Avenue this year we really drew the attention of the community. People were looking out windows, traffic was stopped, and people walked out to see what was going on. We had people waving at us and honking in support. It was awesome,” said SeaView DVSA Coordinator Dawn McDevitt.
The governor sent Larry Hartig, his Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner to be his person guest speaker. More accustomed perhaps to addressing subjects concerning the health and quality of Alaska’s natural environment, Hartig nevertheless spoke from the heart about a matter that should concern all Alaskans. Seward’s speaker was Heather Bardarson. After speeches the group held a moment of silence in honor of survivors and victims of DVSA.
Others attending included Seward Mayor Jean Bardarson, representatives of the Seward Police Department and Alaska State Troopers, who have to deal with DVSA crimes on a regular basis, and Clare Sullivan, the new Spring Creek Correctional Center superintendent, who has to oversee the incarceration of both victims and perpetrators of the same crimes, a large percentage of who end up repeating the same cycle of violence and assault that they grew up in.
SeaView Community Services’ DVSA program is one of the smallest in the state, with only one paid staff member. Seward is also one of only two communities in the 18 funded under the state-funded program, that doesn’t have its own temporary shelter or safe house. Rather, those who are escaping a violent partner must either stay at home, while their abuser is temporarily locked up or legally restrained from returning; or they may seek temporary shelter in local hotel rooms if they are available. Their alternative is to travel to a safe house outside of their community, such as Homer or Anchorage. Faced with the choice of leaving their jobs, their community, and removing their children from school, victims often choose to return to their abuser, McDevitt said.
McDevitt is hoping to raise funding locally to help provide a safe house in Seward, or to be able to provide more shelter nights in existing locations. As of March 25th, the program had already provided 34 shelter nights to people in Seward. Unfortunately, in 2013, there were 204 shelter nights needed that could not be provided due either to lack of funding, or because there were no locations locally available to send people, McDevitt said.
The next fundraising event is the second annual Seward Spring Carnival- April 5, 2014 at the cruise ship terminal, from 11:00 a.m.-3:00 pm. It’s a child abuse prevention carnival which will offer many tools for parents and youngsters to help keep their child safe including bullying prevention, child ID kits, and age-appropriate information for youngsters on keeping their bodies safe, games and more.
A new fundraising event is the 1st Annual Ride for Respect Poker Run- Motorcycle run from Anchorage to Seward on June 7, 2014. DVSA is expecting a few hundred participants at this event. Registration is open for this event.