A new study shows 45 percent of women in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands have experienced sexual or intimate partner violence, or both. The survey is part of a statewide project to establish baselines for regions across Alaska.
Until now, Dr. André Rosay -- of the University Alaska Anchorage -- says there had been no accurate measurement of violence against women in Alaska.
“Before this, the only thing we had for data were law enforcement statistics," Rosay said. "The problem with those is that they only capture crimes that have been reported to law enforcement, and we know that these are some of the most underreported offenses.”
120 women in the Aleutians West Census Area and Aleutians East Borough participated in the phone survey in 2014 and 2015. It was conducted by UAA’s Justice Center on behalf of the state’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA).
Researchers did not ask participants if they were victims of sexual or intimate partner violence. Instead, questions were framed around behaviors.
For example, CDVSA Executive Director Diane Casto says participants were asked if they had ever been pushed or slapped.
“It's important that this survey was done in that manner because many people who experience those behaviors do not classify them as intimate partner violence or domestic violence or sexual assault,” Casto said.
Dr. Rosay says the survey’s findings are probably conservative, as participants represented five percent of women in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. Plus, the survey only included English-speaking women, women with access to phones, and women with permanent residences.
“I think it's interesting that it was difficult to administer the survey here because it also indicates that it would be difficult to provide services in this region for many of the same reasons," Rosay said. "Women may not speak English or they might be isolated so that they don't have access to phones. In those cases, it would be difficult for them to seek services.”
Rosay found that 24 percent of women in the region will experience sexual violence, 43 percent will experience intimate partner violence, and nearly half will experience either or both.
While Rosay hoped the survey would reveal some regions had lower rates of violence, he found that they’re consistent across Alaska.
“We have found high rates throughout the entire state of Alaska," Rosay said. "We have not been able to find a region where women are safe in their homes and in their relationships. That unfortunately does not appear to exist here in the state of Alaska.”
Rosay says Alaska’s rates are higher than the national average, but there is no easy explanation for why that is.
At this point, Rosay and Casto don’t know if their regional studies will continue. That’s contingent on funding. But they’re focused on conducting a statewide survey in 2020, as well as evaluating Alaska’s education and other services.
USAFV operates a shelter and a 24-hour crisis line to address the needs of survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child or elder abuse, and other crises. Unalaskans can reach the crisis line at 581-1500 or toll free across Alaska, (800) 478-7238.