Domestic violence goes deeper than just numbers

The results of a recent Clarion poll question on the topic of domestic violence may have taken some of us aback -- but in all reality shouldn't have. What's more, they should serve as an eye-opener for those who have been fortunate enough not to be affected.

In our poll, we asked if you or someone you know have been the victim of domestic violence. Seventy-five percent of our poll respondents answered yes. And while our poll is not scientific, we suspect that number might be even greater, as it's likely that many of the people who answered no actually do know a survivor of domestic violence -- they just don't know it. In many cases, it remains an unreported crime.

Last September, 19 domestic violence programs in the state participated in the 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services, a survey that took place over a 24-hour period. According to the survey, 565 victims were served in one day and 363 domestic violence victims found refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing provided by local domestic violence programs, among other statistics, according to information from the governor's office. Additional information provided by the governor's office shows that from 2003 to 2010 the average rate of reported forcible rape was 2 1/2 times higher in Alaska than the rest of the nation.

Numbers are high locally as well: Kenai police Investigator Jeff Whanell recently told participants in the LeeShore Center's community awareness workshop on domestic violence and sexual assault that plenty of calls are fielded by police. In fact, earlier this year, the Clarion reported that Kenai police averaged five arrests on domestic violence charges a month, though there are many more calls that don't result in arrests. Likewise, Soldotna police handle about five domestic violence calls a week, and state troopers have said that domestic violence cases involving serious injury can be 30 to 40 percent of their workload.

But domestic violence isn't just about numbers, it's about people. It's about affected spouses and children. We use numbers to define the scope of the issue, and have found that the effects or domestic violence, directly of indirectly, ripple through the entire community.

There is no easy solution to such a problem, but community awareness, a willingness to acknowledge that domestic violence is something that happens here, that we're not going to turn a blind eye to the problem, is an essential first step. The message from the LeeShore Center's week of workshops is "Each one, teach one" -- that as each individual becomes aware of how domestic violence affects our community, share it with another person.

As Becky Hultberg, the state administration commissioner, said during the "Choose Respect" march last month in Kenai: "We want to send a strong message to victims and survivors across Alaska and here today -- you are not alone and you are not to blame."

We hope that raising awareness of this issue, supporting victims and survivors, working to change behavior, will move us toward a day when the numbers won't be such a cause for alarm.

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