Alaska’s domestic violence rates among the highest in the U.S.
by Carlos Matías
Nearly half of Alaskan women admit to having experienced some form of domestic violence in their lifetime by their partners (48%), according to a survey by the University of Alaska Anchorage, in which 13,000 women participated. Nearly one in three experienced sexual violence. Cases of DV (domestic violence) and sexual violence rise in the Alaska Native population.
The University of Alaska Anchorage survey coincides almost exactly with the report released last January by the state’s Criminal Justice Commission. The latter study concludes that Alaskans (both women and men, although the latter to a lesser extent) “experience domestic violence at alarmingly high rates.”
Elsewhere in the United States, one in two people in California, including children, have been exposed to some form of domestic violence, according to new research from the Blue Shield Foundation of California. Nationally, one in four women and one in seven men experience physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, according to CDC data.
Domestic violence can take many forms: technological abuse (stalking, text message harassment, use of apps to track your whereabouts) and coercive control are two forms of violence that often go unreported. The problem has been the subject, at the end of last October, of a meeting with specialists organized by Ethnic Media Services, who analyzed state policy in California and the changes introduced by the Biden Administration, such as the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act and the White House plan.
Speakers at the meeting included Jenna Lane, communications officer for the Blue Shield Foundation of California; Erica Olsen, Safety Net program director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence; Deborah Tucker, board chair of the National Center Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; and Pallavi Dhawan, director of Domestic Violence Policy for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.
Key data from the two investigations mentioned at the beginning of this article indicate that virtually all women who acknowledge having been victims of domestic violence (46.8%, within the 48% mentioned above) have experienced physical violence, and nearly one in three (27.7%) have been victims of sexual violence.
In rural Alaska, the problem is compounded and magnified by difficulties with land-based communications. Many villages have no police department and no roads, forcing police officers to fly, snowmobile, or travel by boat to reach the community from which they have received an emergency call.
According to Susanne DiPietro, executive director of the Alaska Judicial Council, “In the state’s smaller, more remote villages, victims lack resources for help, and law enforcement is often difficult because law enforcement response in these rural areas can be delayed.”
Domestic violence is a crime that often has no witnesses other than the perpetrator and their victim, and this makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to establish accountability and bring the perpetrator to justice. Alaskans file about 8,000 protection orders each year. In 2020, judges granted more than 2,400 long-term protection orders and more than 3,400 short-term orders. The silver lining is the involvement of nonprofits and tribal organizations in supporting and advocating for victims. In Alaska, recidivism rates for those convicted of domestic violence offenses (41%) are higher than recidivism rates for those who commit any other type of crime (20%).
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