October is national Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and activities across the country have centered on raising public awareness concerning issues of abuse as well as prevention.
Locally, officials with the Kenai-Soldotna Women's Resource and Crisis Center have used the designation as a tool to remind community members of the resources available to victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse.
Through a poster contest involving local schools, as well as being part of a community justice conference earlier this month, the WRCC is seeking to keep the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault in the forefront of community thought not only for prevention, but also for healing, said new WRCC Executive Director Evelina Giobbe.
Giobbe was part of a group of local law enforcement, social service and community officials who were among the leaders in various capacities that participated in the 2000 Community Justice Conference Oct. 12 in Kenai. The conference was the first of its kind for the peninsula.
The conference, sponsored in part by the state Department of Corrections and the Kenai Peninsula Victim Advisory Committee, focused on the growing national trend of community justice -- a way of viewing, understanding and responding to crime and the effects it has on victims, communities and offenders.
"It was really interesting for me to attend this conference because I came from Minnesota, where I've sort of seen the concept of community justice and policing in action," Giobbe said. "And for me, the two big issues that I looked at were how that type of community involvement is translated to a rural area, and how we apply some of these concepts to address domestic violence and sexual assault locally."
She said many of the community justice models around the country focus on more populated areas.
"The model really lends itself to an urban area because of its proximity of people and the level of urban crime," Giobbe said. "Crime is concentrated, it's visible and directly impacts people in the community. It affects property values and quality of life and because of that, it's fairly easy to organize people to find ways to support and supplement the criminal justice system."
She said because the peninsula is largely rural and spread out, one of the challenges in initiating community justice concepts is getting residents to understand the impact of the crime in their communities.
"If they are not feeling the impact, they tend to be a bit more complacent about it because it does not affect them directly," Giobbe said. "A good thing about what I've seen in this area is that people have a lot of faith in the criminal justice system. But that also lends itself to people maybe not getting as involved because they want to let the police do their jobs."
Applying the model in domestic violence cases adds another twist, Giobbe said.
"Really, the bigger question for me as the director is what will community justice look like when it's applied to issues of domestic violence and sexual assault," Giobbe said. "It's very different from a property crime or drugs where it's very clear the impact that type of crime has on the community as a whole. I think it's harder for people in general to ascertain the impact that domestic violence has on the community."
Giobbe was quick to point out that fostering more community awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault did not translate into a lack of support for the WRCC and its programs. She said, in that area, the community has been extremely supportive and cited last month's annual "radiothon" fund-raiser, which brought in more that $30,000 in goods, services and cash.
"There is a lot of visible support in the community for the work that we do here to prevent and redress domestic violence," Giobbe said. "I don't know if community members as a whole understand how much domestic violence affects our community and how it affects their lives, even if they are not the victim. We are all part of finding a solution."
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