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Episode 50: Shattering the Silence

By KTVA Alaska 4:11 PM April 11, 2016

In this week’s program, we cross into a frontier that takes courage and determination to tackle: facing up to Alaska’s high rate of child sexual abuse, which the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center says is six times the national average.

Some of the highlights of this week’s show:

  • A behind-the scenes look at “Stalking the Bogeyman,” a UAA theater department production based on the real life story of a well-known Alaska journalist, David Holthouse, who was sexually assaulted at the age of seven.
  • Guests David Holthouse and Vera Starbard, who also wrote the play, “Our Voices will be Heard,” about her battle against child sexual abuse.

It was an honor to sit across from Holthouse and Starbard, two survivors of child sexual assault and who are pioneers in using theater to raise awareness and understanding about this devastating crime.

Holthouse said telling his story was the hardest thing he’s ever done, but probably the best thing.

It was a dark secret he hid from everyone well into adulthood, until his parents discovered a diary he had kept as a kid, talking about the abuse.

Holthouse was raped by a teenager, the son of family friends. As you delve into his story – his troubled journey into adulthood, thoughts of suicide and an obsession with killing his perpetrator — more questions are raised than answered.

But these are meant to provoke thought about the impact of a crime Holthouse believes should also be treated as public health crisis.

I found the contrast and similarities between Starbard and Holthouse’s experiences fascinating. While Holthouse grew up in an upper middle class family in Eagle River, Starbard’s abuse took place in a small Tlingit community.

She was molested between the ages of four and eight-years-old by an uncle, who had also molested her cousins. Starbard was part of a pattern of intergenerational abuse, in which there was family pressure to keep the crime secret. But her mother shattered the silence by speaking out, despite being ostracized by her family.

Survivors of sexual assault from small rural communities will identify with Starbard’s experience. Her mother’s support made all the difference in her ability to cope with the trauma, though she said it took years of therapy and counseling. Her uncle eventually served a small amount of prison time and was later incarcerated in another case of abuse.

Thanks to 360 North, we have a scene from “Our Voices Will be Heard” to share in the program, as well as a scene from Holthouse’s “Stalking the Bogeyman.”

If you want to hear more from Holthouse and Starbard, here’s a link to their extended Web Extra interview.

Real life stories — brought to the stage – that put some painful and complicated issues in the spotlight. We hope this week’s edition of Frontiers helps to continue the conversation.

Also, here’s a link with a list of organizations, which provide help for survivors of sexual assault.

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