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Addressing Alaska's domestic violence problem


Traveling across Alaska to address the problem of domestic violence, Roberta James, domestic abuse specialist with Tribal Family and Youth Services, stopped by Petersburg on Monday.

Provided by the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Tribal Family and Youth Services uses a grant to travel to communities and work primarily with natives.

“We all know there’s a high rate of domestic violence in Alaska,” James said. “Everyone is trying to do something.”

A 2010 University of Alaska Anchorage survey showed that out of every 100 adult women who reside in Alaska, 40 had experienced intimate partner violence.

Just as alarming as the domestic violence rate is the sexual assault rate as 37 percent reported sexual violence. Fifty percent had experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both. Alaska’s child sexual assault rate is also six times higher than the national average and 61 percent of rape victims in Alaska are natives.

James said one factor is the seclusion. Around 75 small communities in Alaska have no local law enforcement, so victims must wait, often for a lengthy period of time, for help.

She added that native Alaskans often don’t have as much access to assistance such as medical care.

Monday’s small meeting was held at the WAVE (Working Against Violence for Everyone) office, where Executive Director Annette Wooten said some are afraid to wait for assistance and then go through the invasive exam in an area they’re unfamiliar with.

And even in a community the size of Petersburg criminal cases can be drawn out, she added.

James said it can be difficult to come forward in smaller communities where everyone knows each other.

“And then there’s strong families and victim blaming, it’s hard,” Wooten added.

Education is important in helping put a stop to the violence.

Wooten noted the work WAVE does with students in Petersburg and James discussed a native batterers intervention program.

Domestic violence is really a learned behavior, James said, though factors such as mental health and heavy drinking can be contributors.

“A controlling partner is a big part of domestic violence,” she noted.

Signs include the abusive partner holding money or keeping their significant other away from friends and family to control them.

“Children can get caught up in families and get used,” James added.

Abuse can be emotional, physical and sexual and have long lasting effects.

The Duluth Model Power and Control wheel examines the cycle amongst women who are battered by male partners. Mending the Sacred Hoop is one program that assists Native American women who’ve suffered abuse, James said.

But it isn’t just women facing domestic violence. About 3 percent of men also report it, James said, though Wooten noted that figure is likely higher with many men not reporting abuse due to shame.

It often comes back to that education and realizing what behaviors are abusive, too.

This year’s Alaska legislative session passed Erin’s Law, requiring all public schools to implement a prevention oriented child sexual abuse program.

Wooten is curious to see its impact and noted that the victim blaming also needs to stop. Most wouldn’t blame victims in other incidents, such as a car accident, she added.

There are local resources for those dealing with domestic and sexual violence. The Petersburg Police Department can be reached at 772-3838, and WAVE’s 24 hour crisis line at 518-0555. WAVE advocates are also available for chat online at


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