HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE – Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov takes a photo from Castle Hill this morning as Sitka National Historical Park Superintendent Mary Miller looks on. Antonov, who is in town for a day, toured sites in Sitka related to the Russian colonial period including the Russian Bishop's House and Old Sitka. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

 

Survey Sets Goal Of Curbing Violence

     A new study estimates that nearly half of Sitka women have experienced some form of physical, sexual or verbal violence from a spouse or partner in their lifetime.     The study was part of a statewide effort called the Alaska Victimization Survey, which has spent the last few years establishing data which individual cities can use as a basis of comparison to evaluate their progress in stopping domestic and sexual violence, said André Rosay, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska who helped lead the study.
    Rosay, who holds a Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice, spoke at a news conference at Centennial Hall Friday.
    The survey “is really an opportunity to look at yourselves,” said Lauree Morton of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
    The news conference was hosted by Vicki D’Amico and Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV) .
    Rosay, who spoke via conference call, said the study will be conducted again in five years in an effort to determine whether Alaska and individual communities are making progress toward ending domestic and sexual violence against women.
    The estimates were derived from the responses of 282 Sitka women who participated in the phone survey in 2010, Rosay said. The responses addressed two broader categories: intimate partner violence and sexual violence. Both were broken down into subcategories.
    Intimate partner violence was divided into two categories: threats of physical violence and physical violence. The women surveyed were asked specific questions regarding threats or actions by their partners, and the results estimate that 40.4 percent of women in Sitka had experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
    Specifically, the numbers suggest that 20.8 percent of women had experienced threats of physical violence, and 38.8 percent of women had experienced physical violence from their partners. The numbers don’t add up to the total amount – 40.4 percent – because a number of respondents had experienced both. Nor do the responses indicate whether the violence took place in Sitka because the survey asked only if they had experienced specific acts of violence, not when or where, said Rosay.  
    To more specifically address the frequency of the violence and how specific it is to Sitka, the survey examined the number of women who had experienced some form of intimate partner violence in the last year. The study estimated 5.1 percent of all women in Sitka had experienced either physical violence (1.9 percent of all women in Sitka) or threats thereof (4.2 percent of all women in Sitka).
    The numbers on sexual violence were equally troubling, Rosay said.
    The sexual violence category was defined using specific questions about rape and other molestations and then the subject was broken into two categories: forcible sexual assault and alcohol or drug-related sexual assault.
    The lifetime numbers estimated that 24.7 percent of Sitka women (or 844) had experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes – 16.7 percent having experienced drug- or alcohol-related sexual assault and 17.6 percent having experienced forcible sexual assault.
    In terms of sexual assault in the last year, it was estimated that 2.4 percent of women had experienced a form of sexual assault – 1.8 percent being drug or alcohol related and 0.7 percent being forcible, said Rosay.
    “These results are – atrocious would be one way to put it,” Rosay said. “What makes it harder is that we know these estimates are conservative.”
    The numbers are conservative for a number of reasons.
    The survey was limited to respondents with phone access and English speaking. This means that Sitka’s homeless and non-English speaking population was not represented in the sampling. As well, the nature of the survey makes participation difficult for victims.
    The entire state has a problem with violence towards women, said Rosay who called the problem “an epidemic.”
    Statewide the study estimated that 58 percent of Alaska women had experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes and 11.8 percent had experienced it in the last year. The study estimates 47.6 percent of Alaskan women had experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes and 37.1 percent of women have had to deal with some form of sexual assault in their lifetime.
    The study did not contrast the estimates with reported cases because the study asked specific questions – such as “has your partner intentionally burned you” – rather than using legal terminology that covers broader definitions and is more difficult to conceptualize, Rosay said. As well, the study  looked only at the number of victims, and not the number of victimizations, so comparing the raw numbers would yield little information, he said. As well, Rosay cautioned against comparing Sitka to other places in Alaska because each region has its own set of variables.
    Chief of Police Sheldon Schmitt attended the press conference and said the numbers for Sitka in the survey are higher than the number of cases actually reported to authorities, but that this isn’t surprising.
    “It’s a lot easier to report it over the phone than it is to come in and say it to the police,” Schmitt said.
    Katie TePas, the response coordinator for sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska, said the numbers highlight the problem of reporting these crimes.
    “Most people aren’t reporting to the police,” TePas said during the press conference.
    TePas is helping to make the public aware of the new study and encourage towns to be active in prevention projects like SAFV.
     TePas said the effort to solve the problem of violence towards women in Sitka needed to focus on primary prevention: methods to stop the violence from ever happening such as educating people and providing good role models to children and adolescents.
    More information about the survey can be found at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center page: http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/avs. Information about helping out in Sitka can be found by contacting SAFV at 747-3370 or online at safv.org.

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