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Starting the conversation on Domestic Violence

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 5:12 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -Domestic violence and sexual assault are not easy subjects to talk about. In Alaska, domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner violence, has been an ongoing issue and the statistics can be alarming with the Last Frontier having some of the highest rates of abuse in the country.

In a statewide Alaska Victimization Survey conducted in 2020, they found 48% of Alaskan women have experienced intimate partner violence. The study also found that 41% of Alaska women experienced sexual violence, and 58% of Alaskan women have experienced either of these types of violence over the course of their lifetime.

“Domestic violence is a very serious thing that we deal with in Alaska,” says Mike Roberts, Lieutenant with the Alaska State Troopers. “One of the problems that we have is a lack of awareness [that] a lot of people who may not be experiencing it [may] not even be aware that it is happening next door, within their own family, or within the people they may have the ability to reach out and help.”

Abuse can come in many different forms, but one phrase used when talking about domestic violence is “power and control.”

“It happens to all socioeconomics, all genders, and all kinds of things,” says Jessica Stossel, Executive Director with the Interior Alaska Center for Non-violent Living (IACNVL) in Fairbanks.

Stossel says many people attribute domestic violence to people who use drugs or drink alcohol; but she counters that domestic violence can happen to anyone, and it doesn’t discriminate.

“It is really about power and control,” she adds. “A lot of it can be learned behavior from growing up in a situation that’s not so good and things like that. It really varies and it happens to everyone - and we serve all different variations in our community and the Interior,” she added.

Shelby Kearns works as a Prevention Coordinator with IACNVL. She says power and control can be asserted by one partner over the other in a way that is sexual or physical, emotional, psychological, or financial.

Kearns often refers back to a commonly used resource - the Power and Control Wheel - which helps identify red flags and early warnings in a relationship.

“We also talk with people not only about the signs and factors of abuse that [are presently] occurring. Some of those red flags may appear early on in the relationship,” Kearns said.

Red flags can include someone who may develop some isolating tendencies, where they only want to spend time with their partner and maybe cut them off from their friends, family or support network.

“Starting with those smaller things, like finances and spending,” Kearns said, “But also some of their decision-making including everything from what they eat to what they wear. The method of power and control can appear very early in the relationship and people can identify those red flags so it never gets to the physical place.”

Kearns says identifying those early signs could be helpful in identifying if you are unsure about your relationship.

But why is domestic violence so hard to talk about?

Stossel says it is still a stigmatized epidemic in our community and people don’t want to talk about it or acknowledge it.

“I think that there is an embarrassment factor,” Stossel explained. “I’ve seen a lot of victims where there is that self-blame and self-doubt. Domestic violence is a lot of breaking down that self-esteem in people so people maybe feel like ‘what I am experiencing isn’t that bad.’ Maybe they grew up in a family where it was a lot worse and so they think ‘well this isn’t so bad.’”

Stossel said many individuals have kids, and their sole supporter is somebody who is abusing them.

“It’s rough you know... if you’ve never worked before and you have children, where are they going to go, what are you going to do?” she said.

Trooper Roberts says children are the silent victims of domestic violence.

“It would be really awesome if we could figure out how to break the cycle and build a better world for our children,” he added, “Help the people that are being victimized by it, and figure out a way to help the people who are venturing into being abusers or the people that are violating the law.”

Roberts continued, “When our kids get a front-row seat to that, they really get traumatized and they get victimized. They have to deal with the issues that come with experiencing trauma and all the psychological and emotional damage that it does to a person. How do they grow up to have a healthy and balanced life with there are boundaries, and there is respect and appropriate levels of interaction between partners and people they have relationships with when they grow up, and break the cycle?”

The IACNVL helps with housing, legal assistance and many other resources. Advocates work with everyone’s individual needs, knowing each individual’s circumstances are different.

“The message that I would want to get out to the community and especially to those who are experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault in our community or surrounding areas is there is help,” Stossel said. “There is someone who is trained to take your phone call, to answer our door 24 hours a day to just be that support and provide assistance to individuals.”

She says conversations are confidential. You don’t have to give your name, you can talk to somebody about the situation you are in, see what resources are available, and if the IACNVL is the right place for your needs.

Referring to The Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living, Trooper Roberts said, “That organization does a fantastic job of guiding and directing people and counseling them, giving them ideas and safety plans and things they can do, what directions they should go... and what they offer, I believe from my perspective, they offer so much hope and direction, and a real pragmatic approach to working through a problem and getting to the other side of it even long before law enforcement has to get involved.”

Shelby Kearns left with this message: “I would say you are not alone. This experience is all too common but we do have the resources here to help you, even if you are unsure. I think sometimes people are under the impression that they would only use these resources, including our advocates, if they were completely certain about leaving their relationship; but I think that using our website as an educational tool to figure out if intimate partner violence is something that you are experiencing right now, [or] calling our 24/7 advocate and having a conversation about what you are experiencing so you can plan and make decisions with them will be helpful because you don’t have to have all the answers yet. There is someone that is going to be there and support you every step of the way, and empower you to make your own decision... or how, if at all, you leave the relationship.”

If you think you may be in a relationship with domestic violence taking place, or want to reach out to an advocate, call the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living’s 24-hour number at (907) 452-2293 or visit their website at https://iacnvl.org.

Watch part one and two of this series below:

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