Sullivan Honors Alaskans of the Week: Christine Pate and Nikole Nelson


WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor this week in recognition of two AlaskansSitka resident Christine Pate, the Legal Director for the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and Anchorage resident Nikole Nelson, the Executive Director of Alaska Legal Services. Both of these Alaskans have spent decades working tirelessly to bring legal representation to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska. Christine and Nikole were honored as part of Senator Sullivan’s “Alaskan of the Week” series.

Alaskan of the Week

Sullivan Honoring Christine McCleod Pate and Nikole Nelson as Alaskans of the Week (Click image or here to watch, click here to download).



Mr. SULLIVAN. Mr. President, it is the end of the week on the Senate floor, and it is my favorite time of the week. I think it is the pages' favorite time of the week, too, because we get to talk about the Alaskan of the Week. This is a speech I give every week. The whole purpose is to talk about somebody in my community, somebody in my great State, who has done something important for their fellow Alaskans or maybe their fellow Americans. Sometimes it is someone very famous. Other times it is somebody who is working hard every single day and doesn't get a lot of recognition. What we like to do is come and talk about them. We like to brag about them.

I like to brag about my State. We all like to brag about our States. When it comes to size, beauty, grandeur, and majestic nature, I think Alaska takes the cake of all the other States, but others might disagree. I know the Presiding Officer loves his State very much.

What we want to encourage people to do is come on up to Alaska, see it for yourselves. Spend some time there. We are getting ready for a little recess. Some of my Senate colleagues will be coming up and seeing our great State in the next week.

I guarantee you, if you are watching, it is going to be the trip of a lifetime. You will love it, absolutely love it. More than anything, it is truly the people of Alaska who make it such a special place. We like to celebrate these people. They are individualistic, rugged, tough but very community-oriented. We call them our Alaskan of the Week.

I am going to break a little rule on the Alaskan of the Week this week because it is going to be the Alaskans of the Week, not one but two -- two people who are doing great things and, in many ways, reinforcing each other's great work in Alaska.

I am going to talk a little bit, though, about one of the challenges. We like to brag about how wonderful our States are. Let's face it, all States in our great Nation have challenges and problems. One of the ones that a number of us back home in Alaska are focused on is a really big challenge and a really problematic issue in my State; that is, the very high rate of domestic violence and sexual assault we have in Alaska. We have some of the highest rates in the country. This is horrible, and it impacts families and, of course, victims and survivors. Of course, it is not just a problem in Alaska; it is a problem all across the country. In Alaska, it is an acute problem. It is a big problem.

The good news is, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Alaska who have recognized this as a big problem and have banded together in using their energy, creativity, and drive to have turned to the survivors of this abuse and turn to help them and help them break out of what oftentimes is generational violence--family victims after family victims.

Today, I recognize two such Alaskans, who are literally leading the way on this very important issue of helping the survivors of these heinous crimes: Sitka, AK, resident Christine Pate, who is the legal director for the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and Anchorage resident Nikole Nelson, who is the executive director of Alaska Legal Services.

These two women, for decades, have been leading the effort to bring legal services and other services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in our State. They work together. They are leaders. They have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of victims and their families--think about that--over the last 20 years.

Let's talk about them a little bit. Christine has done a great job with the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, ANDVSA, which is an umbrella organization for 25 domestic violence and sexual assault programs across the State.

Christine is a cum laude graduate of the New York University School of Law. She came to Alaska in 1993, clerked for Sitka Superior Court Judge Larry Zervos, and after that, she worked for Alaska Legal Services in Fairbanks and then has been with ANDVSA for 20 years doing this very important work.

Her demeanor was once described by a reporter as ``Clark Kent-like,'' which I would agree with if that means she has superpowers that are used to fight bad guys and help the good guys. Those who know her just call her wonderful, and I certainly would agree with that.

At ANDVSA, she directs the coalition's statewide civil legal services program, which also includes both staff attorneys and approximately 60 active volunteer attorneys--again, to help survivors and victims of these heinous crimes. She also oversees legal training and technical assistance for program advocates. As a matter of fact, I was home a few months ago and went to one of her training programs. She does a phenomenal job.

Nikole Nelson is her compatriot-in-arms. She made her way to Alaska 20 years ago, fresh out of Willamette University's College of Law, and her first job in Alaska--still doing it--was to work for Alaska Legal Services Corporation. She rose up through the ranks, and now she is the director. She, too, in my view, has superpowers, and she channels those powers to serve in the righteous cause of justice for the too many victims in my State who need it and don't have access to an attorney to help them.

I cannot stress how important both the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the Alaska Legal Services Corporation are for victims and survivors of these heinous crimes.

I have had the opportunity and really the honor of working with both Christine and Nikole and their organizations very closely over the years. I am still a huge supporter of all they do and have watched them year after year doing the great work they do to stomp out the scourge of domestic violence in our State. Let me tell a little story of how we all worked together.

When I was attorney general of the State, we had a big campaign strategy called the Choose Respect strategy, and one of the elements of that was to get more lawyers to help victims; to get more lawyers, pro bono attorneys, to come out and help victims, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Think about this: If you are an accused rapist, you get a Sixth Amendment right to counsel. That is in our Bill of Rights. If you are the victim, what do you get? You don't get anything. And far too often, the victims don't have any legal representation. They don't know how to use the justice system as a sword and a shield.

What we were trying to do--what Nikole and Christine have been doing for decades--was to say to the survivors and victims: Wait a minute. We can get you a lawyer. We can help you. We can empower you.

We held these pro bono legal summits throughout the State of Alaska, and dozens of lawyers came out of the woodwork and said: We will help you. We will be your sword and shield in the justice system.

That is what we have done. That is what they have continued to do, and this makes a huge difference. As a matter of fact, of all the studies throughout the country on how you change this culture of abuse--in every study, one of the most important things is to get victims and survivors an attorney. So that is what they have been doing.

We actually recently took that idea here to the Senate floor in a bill that Senator Heitkamp and I cosponsored called the POWER Act, which would create another layer of pro bono attorneys. The idea is to create an army of lawyers by the thousands in America to provide legal services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. That passed the Senate, passed the House, came back over here, trying to hotline it, and it looks as though we hit a little glitch today. But I can't imagine any Senator who doesn't want to do this, so we will probably get this done after we are back from recess, and that will help take this idea nationwide.

The leaders in our community in Alaska have been Nikole and Christine.

As I mentioned, there are no simple solutions on this, but when an abused victim is represented by an attorney, their ability to break out of the cycle of violence increases dramatically.

Just one study found that 83 percent of victims represented by an attorney were able to obtain a protective order versus almost 30 percent of victims without an attorney.

But here is the problem: There was a recent report by a national group that focuses on these issues. In 2014, in 1 day, there were over 10,000 victims who went without services, like legal services. So there is a desperate need. Christine and Nikole have been the ones leading the charge. I talk about an army of attorneys to do this kind of pro bono legal work in Alaska--they are the captains leading this charge.

Christine likes to quote one of the advocates she works with when she talks about her work. She says: ``It is so satisfying to see the relief wash over a person's face when they realize that there's an end in sight and they don't have to live like that in a cycle of violence anymore because they have an attorney representing them.''

Nikole has been traveling the globe with her daughter the past month thanks to a much needed sabbatical grant from Alaska's Rasmuson Foundation.

Nikole, I hope you are having a much needed rest.

Let me end with a quote written by her about the work Alaska Legal Services does, the work she leads in our great State. She said: ``In any given day, the people who come seeking our services may be moms that have been abused by their spouse, oftentimes in front of their children, and they come to us because they do not have the financial means to leave that abuse.'' They help them with that. ``We may have a grandfather who is struggling to care for his grandchildren and he fears he is going to lose his home. ..... For all of these problems, there is a civil legal solution. But unlike in criminal cases where a defendant is guaranteed a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford one, in civil cases''--in these kinds of domestic violence and civil action cases--``there is no [right to an attorney].'' And what they do is they provide it, particularly to victims of these heinous crimes.

Christine and Nikole lead organizations that are doing great work not only in Alaska, but nationwide, Legal Services Corporation does this work, and I am a big supporter of them here in the Senate.

Christine and Nikole, thank you for all the great work you have done over the years. Thanks for your tremendous spirit of generosity and kindness. I know I can thank you on behalf of so many survivors of these crimes whom you have helped, and their families. Thanks for being our joint Alaskans of the week this week in the U.S. Senate.

I yield the floor.