While domestic violence is not a traditional value within Alaska tribal groups and organizations, its presence is a reality. Alaskan Native women and Indigenous women across the U.S. are at a much greater risk of abuse than the general population.
The Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Na’ini Social Services program, with social services specialists Lindsey Anasogak and Lucy Daniels, is a local organization addressing the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault that affects more than one in three Alaska Natives.
At a forum hosted at the Dena’ina Wellness Center Tuesday, Anasogak presented the program’s response to the needs of those affected by domestic violence in the community. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.
Alaska Native women report on average 25 unsuccessful attempts at leaving an abusive partner before making a permanent break, said Barbara Waters, The LeeShore Center’s education and training coordinator. This number is an average, she warns. These numbers are also underestimated due to victims under-reporting abuses.
The 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey for the state of Alaska conducted by the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault provides some insight into the numbers, but left out an important portion of the state’s population, Anasogak said.
“The survey did not include non-English speaking women,” Anasogak said. “If you look at a language map of Alaska there are small villages along the coast where English is not the first spoken language.”
The Kenaitze domestic violence program functions under a federal grant, the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, which provides services to women and girls who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, Anasogak said. The State of Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault grant assists women, men and adolescents who have experienced sexual assault. However, no services available for men affected by domestic violence, she said.
“That is a gap we have in our community,” Anasogak said.
The Kenaitze program works with other organizations in the community, such as LeeShore, to help fill in the missing pieces, and vice versa, Waters said.
The LeeShore Center does not offer monetary help to its clients, but the tribe’s social services program can assist financially, Waters said.
The tribe’s program refers victims in need of shelter to The LeeShore Center, Anasogak said.
“We can’t all do everything but we can all do something,” Waters said.
Many of the women who come to the social services program aren’t aware there is a cycle of violence, but they are already familiar with it, Anasogak said. They have already been through it in their relationships, she said.
Neither program will advise clients to leave their relationships, Waters said. That would only further take away power from the victim, she said.
There are likely many factors contributing to why someone stays in an abusive relationship beyond just the simple choice to leave, Anasogak said. Children, pets and finances are often in play as well, she said.
“Usually a lot of power and control that’s placed into the relationship before the cycle of violence begins,” Anasogak said.
It is important to understand these are learned behaviors, Anasogak said. Domestic violence is not a traditional Athabascan or Dena’ina value, she said.
Identifying direct and indirect factors in domestic violence is key, Anasogak said. For example, drugs and alcohol contribute to instances of abuse, but are not the cause.
“In western villages similar to where I grew up (Bethel) there’s a lot of alcohol involved in abuse, but it is not directly related to the abuse,” Anasogak said.
If a woman is pregnant it can often make the situation worse, but is not the source, Waters said. The abuser feels like he has lost control when a woman is directing all of her attention to the baby, she said.
Anasogak said the tribe’s services will handle clients’ needs on a case by case basis.
In reality when someone doesn’t want help there is very little loved one can do other than be there and love them, Waters said. Make the resources available if they chose to take it, she said.
LeeShore’s Transitional Shelter currently is almost at maximum capacity, Waters said.
“We always say we would like to work our way out of the job,” Waters said. “I would like to wake up one morning and no man has abused another woman. But this probably won’t happen in my lifetime.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.