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8/7/2019
Pro bono power

Domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska is high.

About 60% of Alaska women report being a victim of a partner, an acquaintance or a stranger.

That figure includes Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Metlakatla and the surrounding area.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, when he was Alaska’s attorney general, started the Choose Respect Initiative, along with former Gov. Sean Parnell.

Since becoming a senator, Sullivan has taken that initiative national.

Last winter, President Donald Trump signed the Ensuring Representation for Survivors Act, which was a bill crafted by Sullivan and Sen. Kamala Harris.

“Studies show the best way to get a person out of the cycle of violence is to get them a lawyer,” Sullivan says.

With an attorney, the likelihood of a victim obtaining a protective order against an attacker or preventing further mental and physical abuse increases. A study referenced by Sullivan shows that 83 percent of victims represented by an attorney obtain a protective order, compared to 32 percent of victims without an attorney.

Up until Choose Respect and the survivors act, he says, it was only the perpetrator, under the Sixth Amendment, who had an attorney.

The act gives victims the right to legal counsel — pro bono.

It requires the chief judge in each of the nation’s 96 judicial districts to hold a summit with the idea of enlisting lawyers to allocate their annual required pro bono service to domestic violence and sexual assault cases on behalf of the victims.

Because the services are given pro bono, the federal government incurs no expense on that point.

Sullivan’s vision is an army of lawyers across the country helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The first nationally required summit — Sullivan held state summits as attorney general — was scheduled for Tuesday in Anchorage.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Tim Burgess of Alaska was to preside.

Beyond the summits, the ultimate goal is to reduce, if not eliminate, domestic violence and sexual assault.

To that end, Sullivan has joined — again in a bipartisan effort; this time with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — to introduce the Choose Respect Act, which is a national campaign through the Department of Justice and the Office of Violence Against Women, to educate the public and potential perpetrators to reduce these crimes. The bill reauthorizes the campaign, and designates Oct. 1 as Choose Respect Day.

It’s about changing culture, changing behavior, changing the statistics.

Ultimately, it’s about changing the country’s well-being.