The number of Alaskan women who have experienced violence has decreased over the last five years, according to a report from the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.
Since the center conducted the 2010 statewide Alaska Victimization Survey — supported by Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault — the rates at which Alaskan women experience both intimate partner violence and sexual violence have dropped, according to the results of a recently released 2015 version of the survey.
After questioning 3,027 adult Alaskan women, the survey found the number who reported intimate partner violence dropped from 48 to 40 percent. The number who reported sexual violence dropped from 37 to 33 percent, and the number who reported experiencing either form of violence or both decreased from 59 to 50 percent.
The survey does have limitations that have caused the council to categorize its results as most likely understated, said Lauree Morton, the council’s executive director.
“It’s only for people who speak English. It’s only women. It’s only people with cell phones or land lines,” she said. “We think these are conservative numbers because that excludes homeless women, for example, (or) women who might be in residential facilities, for example.”
Cheri Smith, executive director of the LeeShore Center in Kenai, also mentioned the survey’s limitations as a reason the results can’t be viewed as representing all women in the state. While the overall number of women in the state who reported experiencing violence is down, the LeeShore Center has been packed over the course of the last year, running either close to or at capacity for the last several months, she said.
“And it’s kind of unfortunate that, for example, we’re at capacity, but women at shelters can’t participate in a survey,” Smith said.
Smith also noted that higher rates of women reporting violence would not necessarily mean that violence was happening more often. Higher numbers of women reporting can simply mean more women are reaching out for help, she said.
However, both Morton and Smith said the survey results are indicative of the success of prevention and education efforts. Initiatives like the Green Dot, Girls on the Run, Choose Respect and Boys to Men programs are things communities can adopt and implement, and the 2015 survey numbers seem to reflect they are doing their job, Smith said.
“I do think that prevention efforts are making some type of impact,” she said. “I think more and more people are aware of services and are seeking help and that’s a good thing.”
When the results of the statewide 2010 survey came out, Morton said individual communities expressed interest in knowing local statistics, but that the survey data wasn’t sufficient to break up that way. Instead, the council has spent the last few years recreating the surveys on smaller scales in 11 boroughs and communities, including on the Kenai Peninsula in 2013.
The results of that survey, which sampled 987 women, showed that 52 percent of women on the peninsula have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both — slightly more than the new statewide statistic but less than the statewide results from 2010.
Morton said the council will seek to perform follow-up surveys in the individual communities as well.
“The goal would be in five years … to go back and do a five-year look back for that region,” she said.
Alaska’s negative financial situation will continue to play a part in the ability to perform prevention and other services to combat violence against women, Smith said.
“It’s one of those horrible things that have happened that prevention monies are going away,” she said.
While the percent of Alaska women experiencing intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both has decreased by 9 percent, the survey still shows half the women in the state are reporting such violence. Eradicating violence against women will take a “societal shift” in to the cultural belief that violence is not acceptable, and “the only way to do that truly is by educating people through prevention efforts,” Smith said.
Though Alaska still has a long way to go, Morton said the latest survey results should be encouraging those trying to make a difference and an indicator that reaching a community in which violence against women is not tolerated is possible.
“Almost consistently in the news, every time people talk about domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska, the context is, you know, we’re number one in the nation,” she said “And I hope the takeaway people can start to see is there is hope. Numbers are changing, (and) communities can work together to make a difference.”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.