Domestic violence issues persist on Kenai Peninsula

Large numbers the norm

Despite years of work and the effort of local organizations, domestic violence remains prevalent in the central Kenai Peninsula region, officals say.

 

The occurrence of domestic violence in the Kenai Peninsula matches trends throughout the state identified by University of Alaska Anchorage researchers. Troopers and local police departments deal with the issue on a weekly basis.


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A report published in May 2010 by UAA's Justice Center and the Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (CDVSA) summarized key findings of closed cases of assaults involving domestic violence reported to Troopers in 2004 throughout the state.

The first listed finding in the report indicated Fairbanks, Palmer and Soldotna Trooper detachments handled 50 percent of the cases across the state.

Kenai Police Department averaged five domestic violence assault arrests per month in 2011. This is small compared to the average 615 calls for service, but there are many domestic violence-related calls that do not result in arrests, said Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl.

"When you're taking five people to jail for domestic violence in one month that's not really a rare occurrence," he said. "It's certainly something our officers are used to."

Domestic violence is both physical and emotional, as charges are placed on individuals simply for causing fear of harm, according to officials.

Typically, calls for service resulting in arrests include charges of fourth-degree assault or criminal mischief, Alaska State Troopers Sgt. Robert Hunter said.

A charge of fourth-degree assault consists of a person recklessly causing physical injury to another person, such as a punch, slap or shove to the ground, or placing another person in fear of imminent injury, which often includes verbal threat. Criminal mischief charges are added due to destroyed property.

Hunter said common cases are dealt with in as little as two hours. Interviews and photos of the injuries are done swiftly, he said.

Cases involving serious injuries take longer, because Troopers handle everything from the initial call for service to the subsequent court case, Hunter said.

"On the grand scheme of things it can be anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of our workload," he said. "There are officers that are better at legwork than others, so they tend to get stuck with the more complex cases."

Soldotna Police Department handles about five domestic issues a week. Most of the department's daily grind are traffic violations, said Sgt. Stace Escott.

However, he said an obvious contributor to domestic violence is alcohol.

"It almost always comes down to alcohol ... and selfishness," he said. "One or both spouses is being selfish, and the kids get caught in the mix."

Alaska's high rate of substance abuse contributes to its top rankings for child sexual abuse and domestic violence, said Cheri Smith, LeeShore Center executive director. Almost 75 percent of Alaskans have experienced or know someone who has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, according to CDVSA.

"The numbers we deal with in the Kenai Peninsula are quite large, which is pretty standard throughout Alaska," she said.

LeeShore is a 32-person capacity emergency shelter and a 25-bed transitional housing facility. In 2011, the women's center had a 15 to 17 percent increase in the number of people seeking assistance, Smith said.

Another finding highlighted in UAA's report was the predominance of male suspects. While males constituted 76 percent of the suspects, Peninsula law officials said females are arrested as well.

In turn, males are also victims of domestic violence. Up to 18 percent of LeeShore's clients are male.

Male victims have difficultly admitting physical abuse, especially persons in same sex relationships, Smith said.

"It can be horrific for them to actually seek help for that type of situation," she said. "It's really difficult to admit."

She said men also come to the center seeking guidance because family members are being victimized.

Family fights are reported by neighbors, who hear screaming matches from across property lines. Resulting arrests are based on the on-scene investigation, officials said.

"If there is reason to believe an assault or criminal mischief occurred the officer will make an arrest," Sandahl said. "If probable cause exists then we have to take the primary physical aggressor into custody for the safety of the victim."

Smith said she thinks the Peninsula's community is extremely supportive, and the law enforcement is superb.

A more immediate concern is housing. Providing adequate living space for a family of six or a safe haven for a teenager is challenging, she said.

"LeeShore has a minimum age limit of 18, or the person has to be emancipated" she said. "There's been a couple times where a person was close to 18 and we secured an emergency shelter. But we certainly have had youth come to the door and there's really no place for them to go."

Troopers have difficulty staying in touch with victims, many of whom move away or become reluctant when a trial date approaches. It can often wear investigators time and resources thin, Hunter said.

"We are just at or just below our staffing levels," he said. "The (Troopers) are handling a large workload. And cases we would like to follow up on hit a deadline, and we don't finish investigating before the trial."

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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