By CRAIG MEDRED
The first and only woman to win the 1,000-mile, Yukon-Quest International Sled Dog Race, arguably Alaska’s toughest ultramarathon, and a three-time runner-up in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Aliy Zirkle is one tough woman.
And yet she was emotionally shaken to her core after coming under attack on the Yukon River during the 2016 Iditarod.
Because Zirkle had always lived in the belief that the Iditarod bubble would protect her, always thought her Iditarod fame a safeguard against the violence against women that pervades the 49th state, always trusted that she was an untouchable.
All it took was one nightmarish night on a wilderness river to shatter those beliefs.
All it took was the fear a man was going to kill her simply because she was a woman to make her recognize the world much of her Alaska sisterhood inhabits.
Today, Zirkle works with the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault to try slow a plague of sexual violence and abuse that is bad everywhere in Alaska and worse in the rural areas.
“….Male perpetrators have a sense of entitlement due to their privileged status as men in our culture,” Judy Gette, a professor at the Matanuska-Susitna College wrote in 2014 after a University of Alaska study revealed that 53 percent of Mat-Su Valley women reported being sexually abused or physically assaulted or both. “This comes across in the form of misogyny: a hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women. Perpetrators of interpersonal violence will make statements supporting their violence in terms of women ‘deserving’ such treatment.”
There appears something of a view among some Alaska men that women, like sled dogs, are on earth to be used.
Changing such a culture is a daunting task as now clearly evidenced by two state lawmakers – one an Alaska Native and one a white – standing accused of sexually assaulting women in the state capital.
That disgraced and now former Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, and accused Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, come from Western Alaska only underlines the problems that region faces.