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Choosing a voice: Mallott, other 'leaders' undo progress for victims of abuse

Desa Jacobsson
OPINION: The greatest barrier to ending sexual and domestic violence in Alaska communities is leaders who are part of the problem. Loren Holmes photo

I’m a Yupik/Gwitch’in grandmother who survived child sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and addictions. I was a victim of a predator priest. Thirty years ago, I quit drinking and became a trained victim advocate, working for eight years in two shelters for abused women and children in rural Alaska. I served as a faculty member and national trainer in a program under the auspices of the Justice Department and the Violence Against Women Act called Mending the Sacred Hoop.

All victim advocates receive required training in child sexual abuse, domestic violence, criminal justice and other subjects related to violence. One of the first training books I read was, “He Told Me Not To Tell.”  There was a picture of a little girl on the cover.

I never forgot about that book. And I will never forget the cries of an incest victim nobody believed because, “He was a corporation bigshot.” She was screaming as she said those words.

Therefore, I am compelled to respond to Jason Evans’ opinion piece, “Mallott, a true voice for all Alaskans.”

Most of us are aware that Alaska rates No. 1 in the nation for violent crimes and children are at high risk for abuse. More recently, most Alaskans are aware of the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Elders and Youth Convention held a week ago in Fairbanks. The report given by the children on suicide, abuse and addictions was powerful and heart-wrenching. During a youth activity, an adult called for a moment of silence as a suicide had occurred the night before in a neighboring village. I know about that pain as I lost my only son to suicide.

In 2000-01, a national conference on violence against Native women was held. Those women cited the No. 1 barrier to ending violence against Native women was Native leaders who batter and/or leaders who collude with or support those who do.

During the funeral service of a well-known convicted child sex offender (State of Alaska vs John Hope) Byron Mallott, AFN president Julie Kitka and then-Senator Al Kookesh, co-chair of AFN praised this offender for his leadership qualities and touted him as an Elder, a source of inspiration, a cultural leader, a man who “believed in God.”  Mallott even raised the offender’s Tlingit Paddle as he eulogized him.      

The Juneau Empire wrote of his passing; initially listing him as a “noted Native leader.” However, in a follow-up editorial the newspaper wrote, “...there was a dark side to John. He was a convicted child sex offender. We owe it to the victims to report the truth.”

During the years I spent providing personal safety skills and training to rural school children, a concern from some young people was about those who picked their Elders for them. Some reported that the “Elder” picked for them had molested them.

First, and most importantly, pedophiles are not Elders. They are violent criminals. And you pick your own Elders. Some Elders are never met as they live in another country or are hundreds of years old.

Rape victims suffer from physical injuries. They usually return home after a rape kit exam and medical treatment. A woman was hospitalized in intensive care in Juneau after being raped and beaten. A baseball bat was used to violate her. I reported this to a legislative aide to then-Senator Al Kookesh. He replied, “ Yeah, I heard about the rape.” My friends said, “Well, we see you were out last night.” His first response was to make this victim a brunt of his jokes, yet he stood at the podium during an AFN convention and told those who suffer from suicidal thoughts to call him.

This legislative aid, Julie Kitka and Al Kookesh are not ordinary Alaskans. They are associates of Byron Mallott. They are called Native leaders by some.

Jason Evans was right, Mallott is experienced. He is charismatic, intelligent, well spoken and educated. Evans wrote of business and health care, fresh fruit and hardships and Mallott as a serious contender who understands rural Alaska.

Children were present at the offender’s funeral. When Mallott and the other “Native Leaders” spoke in support of that offender, they sent a powerful message to child victims: the predator is supported and believed and children are not worth protecting. This is the deadliest message that can be sent to child victims. I never heard any of them ask about the victims.     

Incidentally, I reported this to the democrat headquarters, my own representative and another candidate. They never asked about the victims either.

It was bad enough with the "Choose Respect" initiative Gov. Parnell pushes.  Predators never choose respect. They choose victims.  They lie in wait for opportunities.

I don’t know a thing about energy or business. I wouldn’t know a tax credit if it bit me. I know about violence and victimization though. Did you know that when Alaskan Native women saw the pictures of the abuse and torture at Abu Grahb Prison, their reply was, “Is that all...?” I know that violence thrives in silence. Predators depend on it. I also know that the only starting point for recovery and healing is the truth.

All victim advocates are mandated reporters.  All have a duty to warn. All are required to speak out for those whose voices are not heard. All are required to be a voice for the vulnerable and support and believe victims of abuse.  Not collude with those who do.

So, whose voice was Mallott’s? Yours? The victims of the known sex offender? He won’t be mine. Whose voice was he when he testified before the House Resources Committee, responding to a question of the Chair whether subsistence was a right or a privilege? Mallott testified that is was a privilege.

The primary obligation of anyone called a “Native Leader” is to protect and defend the land and its people, not reduce a civil, constitutional, inalienable and human right guaranteed from birth. The rights of victims are not negotiable. I fear that the election of Byron Mallott to the Office of the Governor would set Alaska back 50 years when it comes to stopping violence.

Desa Jacobsson is an advocate for victims of sexual abuse and assault.

The preceding commentary was first published by the Arctic Sounder and is republished here with the author's permission. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.