In a state with high rates of sexual violence, Alaskans weigh in on Trump's remarks

Keeley Olson, executive director of STAR. Photo by Paula Dobbyn.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - In a state with disproportionately high rates of sexual assault, some Alaskans are taking issue with statements Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump has made about groping women.

Trump has apologized for what he characterized as “locker room talk” captured by a hot mic in 2005 during a recorded conversation made public last week by the Washington Post. In widely published remarks, Trump bragged about forcing himself on women.

Keeley Olson, executive director of Standing Together Against Rape, said Trump’s remarks condone sexual violence, and epitomize what she described as rape culture.

“That’s pretty much it to a T. I think it gives people the impression that oh, it’s alright, boys will be boys, men will be men, and it really gets away from everything our culture has been working towards as far as accountability for one’s behavior, and to have respect for oneself as well as for others. And it speaks volumes that he has no respect,” Olson said.

Olson noted that half of all women in Alaska report having experienced violence at some point in their lives. Forty-percent of women have experienced intimate partner violence and 33 percent report having been the victim of sexual assault, according to the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey prepared by the University of Alaska Justice Center.

“We have two and a half times the rate of sexual assault than the closest state in the Lower 48. Even if we were to cut our numbers in half, we would still be ahead by a large margin,” said Olson.

“For child sexual abuse we have six times the national rate. So when you look around Anchorage and you wonder who has been impacted by sexual violence it’s generally one in two, it’s about half of all women.”

Trump’s campaign chairman told KTUU on Monday that the candidate’s apology for the remarks should put concerns to rest.

“He cleared the air. He apologized for that outrageous video. That’s behind him. He had to put that thing behind him. He apologized to his family. He apologized to his daughters and to his wife and to the American public. That was a really important part of rebuilding his campaign. His campaign was on the line yesterday and he rose to the occasion,” said Jim Crawford, who heads the Trump organization in Alaska.

Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators have called on Trump to step aside as the GOP presidential candidate.

Crawford said he didn’t think it will sway many Alaska Republican voters.

“It’s immaterial,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to dent one vote for Donald Trump in Alaska.”

Ma’o Tosi, a former professional football player and community activist, said he’s not sure whether Trump’s remarks will hurt him in a state as red as Alaska. But given the volatility of the campaign, Trump’s unpredictability, and the election still three weeks away, anything could happen, Tosi said.

“I'm sure as we get closer to Election Day there might be more surprises shared with us,” he said.

Tosi is among those Alaskans who found Trump’s remarks about groping women offensive.

“Any time we look down on another culture, race, gender, we're definitely in the wrong place."

As a former high school, college and NFL football player, Tosi has spent plenty of time in locker rooms.

“I don't recall ever a discussion in that way,” he said.

Since the 2005 video emerged, several news organizations have published accounts from women who say they were the victims of unwanted sexual attention from Trump, accusations the candidate has vigorously denied.

Regardless of whether those accounts are substantiated, those working to combat Alaska’s high rates of sexual assault say people should speak out anytime sexually offensive language is used.

“Words absolutely matter,” said Andre B. Rosay, director of the UAA Justice Center. “We all have role in making it clear that violence against women is not tolerated in our society.”

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