LeeShore receives domestic violence, sexual assault prevention grant

The LeeShore Center is seeking a little more participation in its domestic violence prevention program Green Dot.

The Kenai-based center, which operates an emergency shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence as well as education programs and a transitional housing facility, received a three-year grant from the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in early October. The grants are meant to strengthen existing resources to prevent future violence within communities.

LeeShore has run the Green Dot Bystander Intervention program since 2011, when it was part of the pilot group for the program in Alaska. Green Dot, a strategy implemented in various cities and states nationwide, is based on the premise that community involvement and intervention can reduce domestic violence and sexual assault. Kenai is one of five communities with Green Dot programs in the state. The name comes from the concept of acts of violence as red dots on a map and acts of intervention or prevention as green dots, said Renee Lipps, the prevention coordinator at the LeeShore Center.

“On our map, the red dot is when someone uses to choose their words or their actions to harm someone else,” she said in a presentation to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday. “…Really, tonight is about changing that, what we can do as a community and as a borough.”

The first year of the grant is focused on two things — establishing a violence prevention coalition and completing a community readiness assessment, said Ashley Blatchford, the education and training assistant at the LeeShore Center. There are already a number of other groups locally working on social issues — the Kenai Peninsula Reentry Coalition deals with issues relating to prisoner reentry, Change 4 the Kenai focuses on addressing the opioid crisis on the peninsula and the Continuum of Care focuses on providing resources for the homeless. The LeeShore Center participates in many of these groups and a prevention coalition would bring together some of the same topics, Blatchford said.

“It’s all connected,” she said. “These things don’t exist in vacuum.”

The second part of the grant’s focus, the community readiness assessment, will gather public input about awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault in the area as a way to establish a baseline. Community readiness assessments are common among groups seeking to address social issues — the Kenaitze Indian Tribe completed one on youth suicide recently — and Blatchford said the LeeShore Center would be looking for participation from across the community, including from government officials. They’d also like to have someone from the borough on the prevention coalition and give borough employees the opportunity to do a Green Dot prevention program, she said.

“We’d like to think we know where we are as a community, but where I think we are may not be where we actually are,” she said. ”I’m in this every day, so I think we’re really high up there, but we need a valuable, impartial kind of judgment to really know.”

Alaska has some of the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the country. Of every 100 adult women in Alaska, 40 experienced intimate partner violence and 33 experienced sexual violence, according to a 2015 victimization survey from the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.

The rates of sexual assault on the Kenai Peninsula were just as high, according to a 2013 survey, Lipps said.

“Just looking at the peninsula borough, and it was a borough-wide survey, it’s very distressing, the amount of red dots that are landing on our map every single day,” she said.

The prevention program focuses on all types of interpersonal violence, which includes behaviors such as neglect and stalking, Blatchford said. The victimization survey only includes data for intimate partner violence and sexual assault, but from experience working with people, there’s more violence going on, she said.

Blatchford said LeeShore would like to see a member of the assembly on the prevention coalition and wants to give borough employees the opportunity to do a Green Dot prevention program, she said. LeeShore wants to see violence prevention programs that address adverse childhood experiences, too, which can affect someone throughout their life, she said.

“Eventually, within the three-year grant, our goal is ultimately to get a really solid prevention program in the schools,” she said. “We don’t have anything across the board. We’d like to have one consistent program that everybody knows.”

Lipps also noted that the Safe Child Act, also known as Erin’s Law and Bree’s Law, went into effect in June, requiring all Alaska school districts to adopt and implement policies related to sexual assault awareness, establish training for employees and students and provide parental notice for sexual assault, sexual abuse and dating violence awareness. The Legislature did not provide any funding for the implementation of the act.

The funds for the grant come from a lump sum provided to the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault as part of Senate Bill 91, a crime reform bill passed in 2016, said Diane Casto, the executive director for the council. The bill provided the council with $1 million in fiscal year 2017 and with $2 million in fiscal year 2018, she said. The LeeShore Center applied for and received a community readiness and capacity building grant, approved at the council’s Sept. 29 meeting, she said.

The funding for grants of this type date back to the Parnell administration, but the legislators provided additional funds for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention as part of SB 91, Casto said. Those funds could be at risk with the current debate in the Legislature over whether to repeal or to amend SB 91, she said. Now in its fourth special session of the year, the Legislature is considering a bill — SB 54 — that would amend parts of SB 91, though other legislators have called for its complete repeal.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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