Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proclaimed October Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Alaska. Last week, Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer issued a similar proclamation for Kodiak. According to the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center, domestic violence is a critical concern affecting the Kodiak community.
“When you have a community-recognized awareness month, it can spark a lot of conversations,” said KWRCC Outreach Advocate Ellamy Tiller. “It helps to bring things into community conversation and the public eye.”
According to a September 2018 report by the Violence Policy Center, nonprofit educational organization, Alaska has the highest rate of domestic violence, the highest rate of sexual assault, and the highest rate of women killed by men in the country. Of women killed by men in Alaska in 2016, 92% were killed by someone they knew.
“Almost all were wives or girlfriends, or ex-wives or ex-girlfriends. That’s domestic violence,” Tiller said.
According to a 2015 study conducted in Kodiak, 1 in 3 women in Kodiak have had an experience with domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime, “which basically means that any time you’re in a group of people, there’s a really good chance that someone in that group has been affected by violence — either themselves or someone in their family or close friends,” Tiller said.
“Unforutnately, domestic violence and sexual assault affect people in every socioeconomic class, every race, every ethnicity, every gender, every kind of demographic. It’s everybody,” she added. “Even if you’re not aware of it, there are people around you all the time that are struggling with this.”
KWRCC works to help women in Kodiak dealing with domestic violence.
“We try to provide a place that’s safe for people who are trying to get away from dangerous situations,” Tiller said. “The most dangerous time for women is when they are trying to leave a violent partner.”
Women trying to leave a violent partner face the greatest risk of being hurt or killed, so it’s crucial for them to have a safe place where they can go, Tiller explained.
“We can help them make a safe plan for getting away. It’s not as easy as just leaving,” she said.
The center also has an anonymous and confidential crisis line that anyone can call at any time. Both those directly needing help or those who are concerned for a friend or neighbor can call to seek assistance, without fear that their identity will be exposed.
To reach the KWRCC 24-hour crisis line, dial 907-486-3625.
KWRCC serves non-residential clients by providing help pursuing legal cases, finding new housing, and getting in touch with doctors and counselors. The center relies on partnerships with Kodiak Island Providence Medical Center, the Counseling Center, Kodiak Community Health Center, Kodiak Area Native Association, the Sun’aq Tribe, the Child Advocacy Center, Kodiak Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers.
KWRCC opened in 1976 as a discussion group and has been expanding since then. According to Tiller, KWRCC is on the cutting edge of domestic violence response in the state.
“We have a really good program here. Other domestic violence shelters are coming to us looking to develop better programs,” she said. “Our relationship with law enforcement and the court system is much better than in most shelters. Our ability to collaborate with other agencies is much better than most folks’. Confidentiality gets things really complicated, and we’ve figured out better ways to work with other agencies so we can all support our clients together.”
Tiller said community outreach is critical in order to address domestic violence in Kodiak. The center regularly holds training for Kodiak residents, high school students and village residents.
“We’re just trying to get the word out. Not only that this is happening but that people can help,” she said. “The quickest point is to listen to people, believe what they’re saying, and refer them to us.”
According to shelter coordinator Penny Lampl, the center has seen an increasing number of clients over the past several years, but that is probably linked more to continuing outreach and community education than to an actual rise in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault. She added that there are still a lot of cases that never get reported, but as more people learn how the center can help them, they feel more comfortable coming in to get that help.
The center served more than 80 individuals from July 1 to Sept. 30.
Tiller said the cases dealt with represent a wide range of situations and ages.
“A lot of people keep coming back,” she said. “A lot of time people are also struggling with mental health or addiction problems. It’s not just a simple ‘My boyfriend and I had a fight and he hit me.’ There’s a lot of problems.”
“That’s why our community collaborations are so important,” she said. “We can’t just fix your relationship problem.”
Tiller began working at the center six months ago, motivated by a hope to help families affected by domestic violence. Prior to working at the center, she worked at the Baptist Mission.
“You see kids growing up and some of them have really difficult situations, and you see how hard it is on them when they are so small,” she said. “To me I thought — one good step would be to start helping their moms, helping their parents to be stronger parents, and giving them support so they can support their kids.”
The center’s main goals are to support victims and survivors. But in order to help, they must first ensure that people are comfortable speaking about their experiences.
“When you bring things into the light, then you can do something about it. If we’re afraid to talk about it, then it’s just going to keep being the way it is,” Tiller said. “The more we can start opening up these conversations, the more people know, the more people realize they are not alone in this, the more we can start addressing the problem. If we can’t talk about it, we can’t do anything about it either.”
On Oct. 25, KWRCC will be holding its annual prayer vigil and meeting, which are open to the public. The prayer vigil, held at St. James Church, will begin at 5 p.m. and honor victims of domestic violence. It will be followed by the organization’s annual board meeting. KWRCC is always looking for volunteers, members and donations.