ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — Valerie Davidson is Alaska's version of a rock star. Well-liked and respected, she's often stopped in public by people for a hug or chat. The 51-year-old Yup-ik from Southwest Alaska first made headlines when she was just an 18-year-old college student who spoke out against alcohol abuse in villages.
These days, she's serving as the state's first woman Alaska Native lieutenant governor. She's also a sexual abuse survivor.
"Even though it's really hard to talk about, and it's really hard for people to know that about me, I also recognize that I'm not the only person who experienced those things in childhood," Davidson said. "And I want people to know that that those experiences in childhood don't have to define our future."
Davidson says the abuse started when she was four and continued until she was 14.
"I realized that I had the power to stop it and I said something," Davidson said.
She says her abuser was someone who should have been a trusted adult. Davidson says the man got in trouble, but he didn't do jail time. She says most people ask her if he is Alaska Native, which she finds a troubling assumption because abuse happens everywhere and is committed by all types of people.
"I think that as long as people make those assumptions about the people who are perpetrators of these crimes against children, we will never truly be on the lookout for that behavior," Davidson said.
Davidson says she's also experienced racism as an adult. She says one night while she was out dancing with friends in Anchorage, she was punched by a man — a total stranger.
"He just cold cocked me," Davidson said. "He just punched me, punched me in the face, and it happened so fast I didn't have a chance to defend myself, and I was so shocked," Davidson said.
She says when police arrived, they assumed she had been drinking and the fight was the product of domestic violence.
"It was really shocking how I was treated," Davidson said. "The assumption was made that, everything implied that I was a drunk Alaska native woman who was in a domestic violence situation."
According to the state, Alaska Native women and girls have the highest victimization rate — 42 percent — of any other group. Western Alaska reported the highest rate of felony sex offenses, and victims under the age of 11 are most often reported as being assaulted by a parent or family member.
Davidson says she knew the man who victimized her and he was supposed to be a trusted adult.
"In my childhood, the monsters were very real," Davidson said, "and it was not a safe place for me to be at all times."
She says people have asked her why she's talking about her past now.
"I think it gets fixed by us bringing light to the issue and shining the harsh light of judgement and reality every time that that injustice happens," Davidson said, "because we deserve justice, just as everybody else does, and it's not OK that that continues to happen."
She also wants girls in the state to know that their past does not define them. She says to look for a trusted grown-up if there is abuse.
"When I was growing up, we really didn't see people who looked like us, we certainly didn't see women in these positions," Davidson said, "and I want every Alaskan to know that whatever job it is they're interested in, it's possible."