Survey: 1 in 3 Alaska women are stalked

One third of all women in Alaska have been stalked in their lifetimes.

That’s the estimate released by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault this week. The results from their 2015 statewide Alaska Victimization Survey released Tuesday also show one in 17 adult Alaska women responded that they had been stalked within the last year.

Nearly 3,030 adult women with cell phones and land lines were surveyed from May-August 2015, and the main results of the victimization survey were published in spring 2016. They showed that 50 percent of all Alaska women responded that they had experienced sexual violence, intimate partner violence or both.

These are the first statewide estimates on stalking in Alaska, said Jayne Andreen, interim executive director of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. She said the estimates can help inform future policies and assist law enforcement in addressing stalking.

“It often can be a precursor,” Andreen said.

A person commits an act of stalking “if they knowingly engage in a course of conduct that recklessly places another person in fear of death or physical injury, or in fear of the death or physical injury of a family member,” according to the survey, which pulled from Alaska statutes on the subject. Participants were asked behavior-specific questions about eight forms of nonconsensual contact, according to the survey, which included being watched or followed, being spied on, receiving threatening items, getting unwanted messages and more.

Researchers tried to measure stalking in Alaska during the first Alaska Victimization Survey, conducted in 2010, but the definition of stalking used in that survey didn’t work with participants, said André Rosay, the survey’s principle researcher. The definition was changed and used in the 2015 survey, making the results more fit to analyze, he said.

“It is the first time we’ve collected (stalking) data so we don’t have anything to compare it to at this point in time,” Andreen said. “… The intent is, as long as we can support it financially, we will continue to collect this data.”

The only numbers the council had in the past were that of official records of people seeking help for stalking issues and of stalking cases making their way through the court system, Andreen said. While the survey estimates can’t be compared to anything right now, they can help back up what Andreen said people working in fields like hers have known for years — that stalking is serious and is part of a continuum of domestic violence behavior.

These stalking results from the 2015 survey were released this year to coincide with National Stalking Awareness Month, according to a release from the council.

“Part of the reason we are releasing these in Stalking Awareness Month is to raise awareness on this crime,” Rosay said. “Few people tend to think about harassing behaviors as stalking.”

Stalking itself is a complicated incident that requires multiple unwanted contacts, whether physical or not, so the stalking estimates took a bit longer to analyze, Rosay said.

In addition to one in three women reporting to the survey that they have been stalked, the survey found stalking was more common among women who were already experiencing sexual violence and domestic violence. Rosay said these estimates can be helpful either for women in domestic violence situations to recognize that stalking is its own crime, or for friends and family to know another sign to look for.

“We’d like people to recognize that this is a crime and understand the consequences of it,” he said.

The Kenai Police Department got four reports of stalking last year, two reports of stalking in 2015 and three reports of it in 2014, said Kenai Police Chief Dave Ross. These could be reports of stalking or of a stalking restraining order being violated, he said.

While stalking is not reported often, these low numbers do not necessarily mean it isn’t happening more often in Kenai, Ross said. Often, the act of stalking will occur alongside domestic violence, so it is not reported as a separate issue.

“The vast majority of people that have domestic violence issues are getting a domestic violence restraining order,” Ross said. “They’re not getting a stalking restraining order.

The survey was limited in the fact that researchers only contacted adult women in Alaska with cell phones or landlines. This excluded women in jail or women who were staying in shelters to avoid abuse, like the LeeShore Center in Kenai or South Peninsula Haven House in Homer.

Still, Andreen said the survey’s estimates are more accurate than going off official reports of stalking alone, since the survey is anonymous and participants are more likely report incidents in response to the survey even if they don’t report them to the police.

Missi White, executive director of Haven House, said stalking is an issue shelter staff come across on a regular basis as they respond to a full spectrum of interpersonal violence.

“The results do not surprise me,” she said.

It even comes into play in a way when it comes to security of the Haven House building. Protecting people who come to the shelter from others who could potentially follow them is a a major focus of the security protocol, White said.

On the other side of the spectrum, White said Haven House staff assist both men and women with stalking issues from being approached to unwanted phone calls.

“The fact that the justice center is really focused on this important topic I think is just commendable to them,” White said.

Andreen said the survey results have been helpful in confirming how extensive a problem stalking is in Alaska. She thinks they can serve as a heads up to those already experiencing stalking who may not take it seriously enough to report it.

“It is very serious,” Ross said. “Some of the cases we’ve seen are extreme in that the victims are very scared, and the potential defendant is very scary. So I would encourage people to report those incidents and take them seriously.”

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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