PUBLIC PROFILE: Alaya Ketani, Founder and Chair, Keeping Ashland Women Safe Task Force,
Rogue Valley Messenger: Last December, you founded and now serve as the Chair of Keeping Ashland Women Safe Task Force, K.A.W.S. How did this organization come about?
Alaya Ketani: As an Ashland resident for years, career social worker and hypnotherapist, I am aware of a lot that goes on that the general public may not know, including significant crimes against Women. I wondered how a town that prided itself on being filled with progressive women had not come together and found their power to bring this out and address it. I had known a fantastic woman, Jonnie McGowan, who was brutally beaten one block from her home and found dead a few months later. Women know serial date rapists, numerous cases where women are roofied and raped, teen luring, sex trafficking, predators, and more. Then in December 2017 there was a sexual assault in an Ashland restaurant against a female employee. I knew I had to do something.
I gathered a group of influential concerned citizens and announced that I was forming a task force to address this multi-pronged issue: Can we create a city where violence against women is not tolerated, a “not in my city” message, where the respect and safety of women is primary.
RVM: What has been the reception for the organization?
AK: Several Directors of key impactful organizations have contacted us with collaboration. Awareness is building. We are able to receive tax-deductible donations for empowerment trainers, a website, and more awareness raising events. The need is validated due to more news of more violence and threatening incidents. We must pay attention and act. Women’s lives are valuable.
RVM: You have an upcoming event. What is happening there? Who is invited? What will happen?
AK: We call it Deep Dialogue. We are holding a forum for both women and men to discuss many aspects of violence against women, experiences and ideas for action. Advocates from SART will be present for support.
RVM: This is the third public event hosted by Keeping Ashland Women Safe Task Force. What have you learned from hosting the previous two events?
AK: It’s time for frank feelings and discussion to increase awareness and involvement from the community, and for men to realize this is a man’s issue, not just a women’s issue.
RVM: K.A.W.S. is partnering with Ashland Police Department. How do these organizations’ approaches differ to sexual violence, and where is the overlap?
AK: APD is working with K.A.W.S. to better understand the obstacles the female community members face in enjoying a safe community. We have collaborated successfully so far in a few small projects, and are increasing beneficial communication.
RVM: You also host not one but two shows on KXKQ. What are they—and how do they differ?
AK: The show I created focuses on people, ideas and action that is live changing. It’s called Empower Your Life. I am seen as a symbol of inspiration to many having resurrected from several catastrophic experiences. The show is about hope, getting clear and taking action. The other is a music/talk show.
RVM: How does—or doesn’t—sexual violence, and the responses to it, differ in southern Oregon as compared to other places nationally?
AK: In Oregon the estimated rate of reporting sexual assault is only 1 in 10 women report. Based on this estimate, a projected 150 sexual assaults took place in Ashland alone in 2017.
Violence against women is an epidemic with critical statistics nationally. The system can be brutal for women who report, and sentencing involves plea-bargaining. The equal rights amendment has yet to become legislation, statistically men who commit violent crimes against women receive lesser sentences than women against men. It’s a complex issue. There is also the issue of believing women victims. Women are not to blame for being assaulted.
Keeping Ashland Women Safe Task Force is hosting “Deep Dialogue,” on Thursday, September 20, 6:30 – 9 pm at Love Revolution, 383 E. Main, Ashland.