When the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 passed out of Congress , headed for the President’s signature, early this month I was relieved, excited, and saddened all at once.
As a nation of laws, we must work to write and pass decent law, and enforce it on and for ourselves. This one contains the promise of trying to deal with problems faced by especially vulnerable groups of women and I am happy about the progress in thought and action. I hope we can actually accomplish some of the goals we have set with this law.
It is very messy however when it comes to Alaska and I’ve been trying to figure some of it out and see where it leaves us here. There have been a number of news articles and editorials , each of which sends me off thinking and looking at different angles and points of view. I haven’t been able to figure out where to start to share anything until now.
I’ve decided I’m going to start with my Grammy.
I loved my maternal grandmother to pieces. She had a wicked sense of humor and a huge heart. She answered all my kidly questions, my hundreds, thousands, bazillions of questions with patience and detail.
At 4’9″ , she was the first (and almost only) adult I passed in height as a young teen. I didn’t get to stand next to her and show off as we were then living far from each other. We wrote each other regularly . I loved her stories of home and garden and family and looked forward to hearing from her .
She had a minor surgery right around her 70th birthday. An infection set in and things got very bad, very fast. She passed before almost anyone in the family could get back home to be with her, to see her.
My little packet of letters, a few photos, and a piece of beadwork were almost all I had of her for years and years after she was gone . Somewhere along the way my mother and my aunties started adding pieces of her larger story to what little I knew.
I knew Grammy’s early life paralleled that of many Alaska Native children of her time – separated from her family, sent away to a mission school, the combination leading to a disconnect from home, language , and culture which made her an outsider at some level, no matter where she was, for the rest of her life.
I knew she lived with overt racism. That story has been told over and over by so many people so many times that not much of anyone listens anymore but it was real and it was awful. Grammy had ways of dealing with it that mostly kept her on an even keel but it surely rankled.
What I didn’t know was that Grammy was attacked and raped by a white man who suffered no consequences. None. Nary a one.
She was a recent widow in her mid 40s , trying to care for the 4 kids still at home and hang onto the property she and Grandpa had homesteaded and should have been a sympathetic figure by almost any measure in that place and time.
However, law enforcement was uninterested in pursuing the case because she was Native and so somehow or other the attack was her fault. The man who assaulted her told people all around town what he had done and laughed. Laughed. No one stopped him . No one.
(Excuse me but that was the most mannerly of the responses I had to it all when I pieced this story together from conversations with multiple sources.)
Grammy went through a very dark few years after that and I could probably do the strength-of-the-human-spirit-prevails routine to describe her climb out of a resulting problem with alcohol and let it go at that but I don’t want to . Grammy may have been able to heal herself and work to undo the damage to her children but she should not have had to do so by herself. And many, many couldn’t and don’t manage to do what she did.
Also, I think we have stood in our own way, far too often, in this country telling barely camouflaged awesome-pulled-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps stories to ourselves. We focus on individual triumphs/failures whilst ignoring the world surrounding the individual.
I think the larger community has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of its members, all of its members, to exact redress from those who harm others, and to soothe those harmed – for all of us. It is an essential part of why we organize ourselves as groups.
Violence against women , from strangers , family members, or intimates is a class of violence we have had a terrible time dealing with.
We know a lot more now than in Grammy’s time about the emotional damage rape and domestic violence do to all who are exposed to it, directly and indirectly .
We know it costs big bucks too- really big bucks.
The Advocates for Human Rights pulled together multiple studies here which point to the economic costs of domestic violence alone, across the world.
“Recognizing the pervasive nature of the problem, researchers increasingly have begun to examine the economic effects of domestic violence, both in terms of financial costs to victims as well as the broader impact on national economies. Studies conducted in several different countries have attempted to quantify the aggregate economic costs of domestic violence, and the results are staggering. A 2003 study by the CDC estimated that domestic violence cost the U.S. economy more than $5.8 billion in a single year. Other studies have estimated the annual costs of domestic violence in the United States to be as high as $12.6 billion. A study in the United Kingdom, which quantified pain and suffering costs as well as the costs of services used by victims and the reduction in economic output due to domestic abuse, concluded that domestic violence costs individuals, the state, and businesses £23 billion per year. Studies in Australia and Canada have estimated the annual costs of domestic violence (and sexual assault, in the case of the Canadian study) at A$8.1 billion and CAN$4.2 billion, respectively. Comparison with other spending metrics underscores the magnitude of these costs. For example, a conservative estimate determined that domestic violence costs New Zealand nearly as much as that nation spends on unemployment benefits each year – approximately NZ$1.2 billion. These studies reveal that the costs of domestic violence measure well into the billions.”
As I worked my way through events and opinions about the passage of VAWA 2013 I’ve decided I’m not sure we are ready to put a lot of what we know to good use. Yet.
I am hoping we can have a conversation here . A peculiarly and specifically Alaska oriented conversation.
It’s a lot harder to figure stuff out without you here to answer my questions but I’m working on it.
I loved you so.