For nearly a quarter century October has taken on a special meaning for Alaskans who live in the state that leads the nation for domestic violence per capita. Again last week mayors of Kenai and Soldotna signed a joint resolution officially proclaiming October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On behalf of both mayors, Kenai City Councilman Tim Navarre read the proclamation before a Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting and presented the document to Cheri Smith, executive director of the LeeShore Center in Kenai. “We have been very busy this year. In fact probably over the summer months we actually saw a large increase in shelter residents coming in to our 32 bed shelter and over a three month period we were over capacity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the more we talk about domestic violence the more information gets out about preventive efforts the more programs like Choose Respect breaks the silence so more victims are reaching out, so obviously our numbers go up when that happens,” she told the Dispatch in an interview.
Smith says that she believes progress is being made, “Alaska about four or five years ago did the first ever survey of domestic in the state. That was through the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault as well as USA Justice Dept. They did a statewide survey and from five years ago up until last year they saw a slight reduction in both sexual assaults and domestic violence in the state. We’re still very high and still 50% of all women in Alaska reporting having been victims of incidents, but it has come down two points since that time so we are seeing some good effects from our efforts. More and more victims are hearing and seeing that this is a problem that people are taking seriously. That the victims are not being blamed and they we want to hold offenders accountable and that there is help available. We want to work ourselves out of business and that will take a while but we are heading in that direction,” she said. During Domestic Violence Month Smith encouraged the community to take advantage of some of the programs being offered, “It’s always a great thing to educate yourself more about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. LeeShore has historically provided community wide training, education and awareness of training during October and also again in April and I would encourage anyone interested in taking part of the entire training to give us a call.” The Community Awareness Workshop on Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault is a
5- Day workshop held each April and October. Topics discussed include Effects of Domestic Violence on Children. Invited guest speakers include Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Kenai District Attorney’s office, Kenai Police Dept. and others. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is observed nationally and in all 50 States for the last 24 years.