Domestic Violence Awareness Month

The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault cites that out of every 100 adult women in the state, 50 experience intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or both.  As October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, regional and state organizations are weighing in on what else can be done to address a “pervasive issue in Alaska.”

Earlier this month, the Department of Public Safety highlighted the importance of taking action on domestic violence, however, specific efforts from DPS and Governor Mike Dunleavy’s administration were not listed. 

Diane Casto, the executive director of the Council of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA) which operates under the Department of Public Safety, summarized how the council operates to stop domestic violence.

“We provide public funding to 35 agencies around the state, we fund to Bering Sea Women’s group in Nome.”

– Diane Casto

These grant funded agencies are non-profit organizations providing community service in the form of education, safety planning, advocacy, and victim services.  Still, the issue of high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Western Alaska present unique challenges.

“We really do need to make sure that we have some level of law enforcement where communities can feel safe; it’s a challenge because we have so many small communities in this state.”

– Diane Casto

Like Casto, the director of gender justice and healing for Native Movement, Charlene Aqpik Apok points to the need for emergency response services and law enforcement in many Alaskan communities.

“We have really tragic things happening in some communities that don’t even have law enforcement. We have people who are not even able to call a 911 number, or if they finally get a hold of state troopers we have community members who have to protect their own evidence, or collect their own evidence, or wait days for things. That’s just unacceptable.”

– Charlene Apok

Apok recognizes the disproportionate impact domestic violence and sexual assault has on indigenous communities and Alaska Natives. Apok says, “the root of [the] problems are racism, sexism, and homophobia.” She believes that naming the problems that drive high rates of violence, gives room to begin the work to undo them.

Apok also suggested providing alternative dispatch responses to better match the needs of an emergency call from a village.

“Right now we have a system that dispatches only law enforcement, and I think that is problematic, and what I would really like to see is to be able to dispatch support that makes sense for the needs of the community.”

– Charlene Apok

She is referencing programs modeled in cities around the country where teams of crisis workers and medics are on standby ready to respond to dispatch calls best suited for them.  In these instances, a law enforcement presence is not necessary.

Casto and Apok say all people have the power and responsibility to act to stop domestic violence; to speak up, and take a stand to end the abuse.

Casto: “It takes all of us to take action, to intervene where we can, to provide help and assistance where we can, to stop domestic violence.”

Apok: “I believe in our communities at the local level to really create change so the more that we speak up and speak out I believe that we are more powerful and so I really send a message of hope and solidarity to anyone tuning in.”

If you or someone you know is in need of legal help to increase their safety, call Alaska Legal Services at 907-443-2230.  For support services, call Alaska Native Justice Center at 907-793-3550.

Image at top: The purple ribbon is used to raise awareness for domestic violence. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, via public domain. (2015)

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