Opinion: Hoping for many more better endings
Friday's news that a musher has been banned from participation in the Iditarod due to domestic violence charges draws awareness to what is an all too common problem in Alaska.
Travis Beals, of Seward, faces charges in Palmer stemming from a December incident. That case has been sent to therapeutic court, an alternative justice model in which participants receive treatment and are monitored by the court, a probation officer and a substance abuse or mental health provider. That case has yet to be resolved, but Beals is on probation for a July 2015 domestic violence-related criminal mischief conviction.
According to a prepared statement from the Iditarod Trail Committee Board, it "will not accept race applications from Travis Beals in 2017 and for an indefinite period of time thereafter." Beals' participation in the Iditarod after 2017 "will depend in large part on documentation of successful completion of all court-ordered rehabilitation."
The penalty, while severe, reflects a slowly changing public attitude regarding domestic violence. Iditarod Chief Executive Officer Stan Hooley told the Associated Press that race officials were aware of the current charges against Beals in January, but at the time opted to wait for the outcome of the court case before taking any action. Of Friday's decision, Hooley told the AP that "In the end, I think the board wanted to take action that was a little more expedient than that."
While a number of high profile domestic violence cases have garnered attention, the issue remains, as the Iditarod board stated it, a "pervasive problem in the State of Alaska and society in general." And while we demand organizations like the NFL, Major League Baseball or the Iditarod sanction those who convicted of domestic violence, very rarely do we hear those demands made when the offender is not a public figure. In those cases, the reaction is far more likely to be similar to the Iditarod board's initial reaction — it's not our business, it's a private matter, let the police or courts handle it.
Unfortunately, that approach does little to remedy the situation. Hooley also said that "hopefully as part of this process ... both parties are getting the help that they need and hopefully there's a better ending to this story." But would either party be getting help if someone hadn't spoken up?
Victims of domestic violence need to know they have support available to leave an abusive situation. Perpetrators of violence need to know that — if they are willing — there are resources available to help them break the cycle.
Programs such as the Green Dot campaign operate under the premise that anyone has the ability to prevent a potentially violent situation, either by calling the police or speaking up. Domestic violence statistics in Alaska have shown a slight improvement recently as more attention has been drawn to the issue, but there is still work to be done.
We sincerely hope that therapeutic court works for Beals, that the victim of his abuse receives the support she needs, and there is indeed a better ending to that story.
But we also hope that so many more people who find themselves in violent situations know that there's help, that they have the potential for a better ending to their story too.