Dubious distinction

Domestic violence rates high in Alaska; community awareness workshop planned

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2007

Alaska has the undesired distinctions of leading the nation, on a per-capita basis, in the number of women killed by their intimate partner and being the number-one state in sexual abuse of children cases.

Statistics such as those justify the upcoming Community Awareness Workshop on domestic violence and sexual assault, being conducted from Oct. 22 - 26, at the LeeShore Center in Kenai.

"For Alaska Native women, it's 4 1/2 times the rate of other women in the United States," said Executive Director Cheri Smith of the death by intimate partner statistic.

A couple of factors drive the figure in Alaska, according to Smith.

"One is the isolation," she said. "Alaska is a huge state; there are many ways to isolate women."

Secondly, the abuser has the mentality that their partner is their property, she said, entitling them to abuse the partner.

During the community workshop, to which the public is invited, the cycle of violence will be addressed as well as the effects of domestic violence on children, sexual assault and services available to victims.

Part of the task of domestic violence prevention professionals is to debunk the myth in the Native community that the male is the dominant member and is entitled to practice domestic violence, Smith said.

"In truth, the Native community is built on family members working together as a strong family unit," she said.

The LeeShore Center, which maintains a 32-bed emergency shelter for women on South Spruce Street and has 25 beds in its transitional housing facility, averages 28 women and children in residence daily.

The center also conducts a Batterers Intervention Program for men. Currently 75 men are enrolled, though only 25 are coming to class on a monthly basis, Smith said.

"For fiscal year 2007, the number of batterers participating were overwhelmingly Caucasian," she said, adding that the average age range was between 23 and 32.

Most participants in the LeeShore Center program are from the Kenai and Soldotna community, according to Smith, who said, "statewide, the biggest numbers are Caucasian" as well.

"Take into consideration that we have a lot of mixed marriages," she said.

Although alcohol abuse can heighten the severity of domestic violence attacks and poverty can be a stressor that triggers the violence, Smith said the domestic violence itself "goes to the feeling of entitlement."

"It's very targeted at the partner in the home," she said.

In working with men in the Batterers Intervention Program, Smith said, "We give the guys values. They learn that change is possible.

"We also need a strong position from law enforcement, from judges and from the district attorney's office," she said. "We've done it with drunk driving; we're doing it with anti-smoking."

During the workshop, which will be conducted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, speakers are to include representatives from the Batterers Intervention Program, as well as from local law enforcement, the Office of Children's Services, the Sexual Assault Response Team and various LeeShore Center staff members.

LeeShore staff from its Child Care Assistance Program, Child Care Food Program, Transitional Living Center, emergency shelter and volunteer program are scheduled to participate.

Smith said the workshop is open to anyone from the public, and is mandated for LeeShore staff members and volunteers working with shelter residents.

"People can come for all or just portions (of the workshop)," Smith said. In addition to the 40 hours in class, participants will accompany police on actual ride-alongs following the workshop.

A registration fee of $35 covers all course materials, and Smith said, if necessary, scholarships can be arranged for people unable to afford the fee. Registration can be made at the door the morning of the workshop.

In addition to learning the dynamics of domestic violence, participants will learn about its effects on children and about what resources are available in the community.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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