With sexual assault rates more than twice the national average, six times as high for children, it’s hard for Alaskans not to feel overwhelmed. 

Our state also has one of the highest rates in the U.S. for women who are killed by men.

These numbers have been pretty stubborn – and it’s not that people aren’t doing anything to reverse these numbers. Perhaps what’s been missing is more male involvement.

A group of men hopes to change that. At the end of June, they came to Juneau from across the state to attend a conference that was simply called, “Men’s Gathering.”

They asked the question: What will it take to make Alaska a safer place for women and children? The discussions, they hoped, would launch a statewide men’s movement.

I was fascinated by what I saw at this gathering made up of about 60 people, mostly men. In more than 30 years of covering this issue in our state, I’ve never seen anything like quite like this before and am very excited to bring this story to you.  

Conference organizers let Frontiers photojournalist Will Mader bring his camera into some difficult and painful conversations. And while there was anger and frustration, there was also hope and inspiration – a chance to see an old issue in a new light.

The location of the gathering helped as well. Juneau is in the heart of Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida country -- rich in culture and tradition, a place that allowed the Men’s Gathering to travel back in time to explore the role of men as providers, protectors and mentors in a traditional Native culture.   

Here are some of the highlights from our coverage:

  • A time to gather: Men share ideas about what they can do to end the violence in their communities – and how to break out of the “man box” with expectations that men must always be powerful and dominating, and succeed through conquest. 
  • Healing from the inside out: Lyle “Xeetli.eesh” James and his wife, Kolene, share how they used Tlingit language and culture to heal from old traumas and rebuild their lives.
  • Culture and masculinity: On a rocky beach in Auke Bay, men explore manhood by harvesting seals. They learn how to cut up the meat, which will be given to elders.
  • Featured guests: Doug Koester and Gary Neumann talk about the next steps in this fledging men’s movement. Koester is a violence prevention specialist for South Peninsula Haven House in Homer. Neumann is a member of the Salish tribe in Montana. He travels across Alaska to help communities develop suicide prevention programs. You can also hear more from Koester and Neumann in this web extra. 

The Men’s Gathering had many partners. The University of Alaska Southeast hosted the conference. There were a number of sponsors: Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA), Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, Sealaska Corporation, Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA), and Alaska Community Services Foundation Social Justice Fund.

Those who took part in the gathering say this widespread support is an encouraging sign. They hope to hold a second gathering in Anchorage later this year. We’ll keep you posted on what happens next.  

 

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