Contributed by Stephany Jeffers
As a little girl, my mom always warned me about the phrase, “Somebody should…” You wouldn’t catch a Jeffers kid saying, “Somebody should do something about that,” because our mom quickly taught us that we were somebody. That’s part of what pushed me into leadership rolls growing up in Chugiak. Whether that was organizing a sandwich-making day for Bean’s Café or serving on student councils… there were things that I saw needed to get done, and I knew it somebody had to do it.
That same little girl that learned “somebody should” means that “you should” was the same little girl who was taught from age 6 that you run. You risk a bullet to the back rather than get in the car. At age 8 or 9, she was playing with barbies in the bathroom sink (using it as a swimming pool) when she overheard her first story of a person she knew getting raped. My dad was a pastor, so we frequently hosted youth group parties at our house. I was younger, so I shut myself in the bathroom that was attached to the master bedroom, so I could play in peace. They didn’t know I was in there. By high school it was my friends telling me about getting raped or sexually assaulted, and I didn’t feel like such a little girl anymore. And by college I had plenty of stories of my own.
My entire life, Alaska has led the nation in the rate of rape, sexual assault and violence against women. It’s 30 years later, and it seems like nothing has changed. This year has brought a lot of attention to the issue with the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh hearing, the Schneider case and other stories that seem to be coming weekly at this point. Horrifying stories. Terrible stories. Completely unsurprising stories. But I ask you, what has changed?
Somebody should do something.
I have said it before, I wasn’t planning on running. But when I saw that the incumbent, Cathy, was running unopposed I felt like I had to step in. I like Cathy. I like that she is kind, and I like that she will always respond to her constituents with a reasoned answer about her votes. But I need a representative that will do more than just vote. The legislature has the power to change things. Actually change things. I need a representative that will do something.
I have had the opportunity multiple times during this campaign to talk in person with Cathy about this issue and ask her, “What will you do?” She, like many candidates to whom I have posed the question, quickly pivots to SB91 – the favorite talking point of politicians running for Alaskan office this year. Let me be clear: This has NOTHING to do with SB91. This is not new. This is not because of SB91. This is how Alaska has been for decades. Repealing SB91 will not solve this problem.
So, what do I propose to do?
1) Fully-fund the testing of backlogged rape kits: Representative Geran Tarr has been working hard to #EndtheBacklog of untested rape kits in our state. She secured funding for most of it, but this is an issue of great enough importance that we need to ensure it is fully funded.
2) Follow through - make sure they’re tested: It’s easy for people to throw money at a problem and think it’s solved. Because the labs that regularly test these kits have an incredibly heavy workload, it may take a while before the Alaskan kits can be tested. I cannot stress how important it is we not forget about this, not lose sight of the goal, not think that funding testing is enough. We must follow through and make sure they get done
3) Make sure Alaska has its own lab in the future that can test these kits: For decades, we have led the nation in the rate of rape and sexual assault. How is it possible that we don’t have a lab in this state prepared to deal with these kits once they are performed? As a former geneticist, I can tell you it’s not because of a lack of capable equipment. Turns out, we have labs that are capable, but they are not certified to provide testing for evidence. We need to make that happen.
4) Set a deadline for future kits: When victims turn in a kit, they need to know that the end is in sight. We need to set a timeline in which future kits must be tested, so that victims don’t wait years without hearing anything.
5) Reevaluate how we define crimes like sexual assault: I have two words for you. Justin Schneider.
This is just a start. Just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the steps that need to be taken to reduce the rate of violence against women in our state. But I will not sit by any longer hoping and praying for things to change. Somebody has to do something.