More than half of women in the Y-K Delta have experienced partner violence or sexual violence within their lifetime. That’s according to a new survey that interviewed 514 adult women in the Y-K Delta. It found that 51 percent had experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both at some point in their life. It also found that 17 percent had experienced this kind of violence within the past year.
Seventeen percent is equivalent to more than 1,200 women, according to Andre Rosay with the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, which conducted the survey between March and May. Rosay said learning the differences between violence in the past year versus a lifetime can help the state direct proper services.
“The lifetime numbers may indicate some historical trauma that needs to be addressed,” Rosay said.
Lauree Morton wasn’t surprised by the numbers. She has worked with victims for many years through the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
“I think if you’ve not experienced working with women as they come forward, it’s shocking,” said Morton. “You don’t want to think that the numbers are as high as they are.”
Survey backers say the estimates are conservative, possibly very conservative in some regions. The survey included only women who had access to a phone line in an environment where they felt they could talk freely for about a half hour. Rosay said it did not include women living in shelters, hospitals, or prisons. It was also only in English.
“We also know the continuing stigma that’s associated with disclosing intimate partner violence and sexual violence, particularly to a stranger on the phone,” said Rosay. “That’s a very difficult thing to do.”
Still, the survey gives the state a broad baseline of data about victims, something they never had before.
“One of the problems that we’ve had in the past is that everything that we used to know about domestic violence and sexual violence was based on law enforcement reports,” Rosay said.
The State kept getting asked what their rate of victimization was, but they never knew, said Katie Tepas, who works with the Governor’s Office. Now, she said, they know what they’re up against.
“What we can emphatically state, is that across the state, our rates our way to high,” Tepas said. “We have horrific rates, so it doesn’t matter where people are residing, they’re horrific, and so as a state, all of us has to do something.”
Statewide, the Alaska victimization survey interviewed 871 adult women. It found that 59 percent have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both at some point in their life. About 12 percent had within the past year.
The survey project started in 2010 with plans to survey all regions of the state. Last year they surveyed Bristol Bay, Fairbanks, the North Star Borough, Anchorage and Juneau. This year they’ve looked at the Bethel region as well as Sitka and Kodiak.
The goal is for the survey to be repeated every five years.
“While the lifetime numbers probably won’t change,” Morton said, “we’re hoping that maybe the previous year numbers, we’ll see an adjustment.”
Locally, the regional survey was well received. Michelle Dewitt has directed the Tundra Women’s Coalition, a regional women’s shelter in Bethel, for 15 years. She was impressed that over 500 women felt comfortable enough to talk about the abuse over the phone to a stranger.
“The fact that so many of the women completed the entire interview which was about 30 minutes and I think that a lot of that has to do with all of the work that has been done for many many years across the Delta to make an impact on issues related to domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Dewitt.
Dewitt believes over the past few decades there has been an attitude shift in the Y-K Delta about domestic violence and sexual assault that is making it easier for people to seek shelter and services.
“Because we’ve created an environment in the region where people are much more willing to discuss issues around domestic violence or sexual abuse, we may have a group of people who are more likely to engage in the research, to speak with the researchers, to request services, to disclose and to report abuse,” Dewitt said.
It is unknown how Alaska’s victimization rates compare nationally. Rosay said they are still working on those details.