KYUK AM

Study Suggests Prevention Strategies Can Curb Domestic And Sexual Violence Rates

Mar 14, 2017

Prevention Summit organizers Claudia Plesa and Liz Sunnyboy participate in a warm-up activity at the start of the 2017 Prevention Summit on February 27, 2017 in Anchorage.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Over a hundred people gathered in Anchorage recently to talk about ways to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault.  

It was the fourth biennial Prevention Summit, and everyone there was determined to knock Alaska out of its position as the state with the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. 

“Prevention is the answer to community transformation, but we also have to recognize that this is decades of work that we need to do. We need to be committed, and we need to maintain our focus on the work," said Julia Smith, Prevention Director at Sitkans Against Family Violence and a member of the Prevention Summit planning team.

Seven years ago, then-Governor Sean Parnell called Alaska's high rate of domestic violence and sexual assault an epidemic and pledged to stop it. Instead of emphasizing punishment for perpetrators, the Governor talked about prevention. Though those in the field have long advocated for it, Governor Parnell's pledge marked an official shift in statewide strategies towards preventing violence before it happens.  

Now, years later, those meeting at the Prevention Summit in Anchorage finally have something to celebrate. The numbers seem to show that prevention works. The University of Alaska, Anchorage Justice Center's survey, which was released in January, shows that there were 8,055 fewer victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska during 2015 than in 2010. It also documents a 31 percent drop in the numbers of women who experienced intimate partner violence or sexual violence. In the area of alcohol- or drug-involved sexual violence, the news was even better: a 44 percent drop during that same period. 

Those attending the conference shared strategies specific to each community, including advertising campaigns, in-school curricula promoting healthy relationships, leadership programs for youth, and activities focusing on Alaska Native culture and values.

“There’s that exchange of information; there’s communication; there is nurturing; and there is storytelling in those activities, and that’s the beauty… that the hopeful journey that people in different communities are starting to take,” said Liz Sunnyboy, a prevention consultant and Elder who is originally from Pilot Station.

Though the survey indicates a trend downwards through 2015, Alaska's rates of sexual assault and domestic violence remain the highest in the nation. In the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, where the first legal liquor sales in 40 years began last year, caregivers are seeing an increase in demand for emergency and shelter services, along with a large number of sexual assaults. 

On the same day the prevention summit began in Anchorage, Tundra Women’s Coalition Executive Director Eileen Arnold was at a Bethel City Council meeting, reporting on an increase in shelter service needs for women and children this year.

“If the numbers that we are seeing continue, we are probably going to be providing more shelter services and more shelter nights this year, and we are going to see a higher number of adults and children utilizing our shelter by the time this fiscal year ends. And especially troubling is the number of reported sexual assaults that are happening in this region,” Arnold said.

Arnold made her comments while the council was considering two additional liquor license applications.

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