Nearly half of adult women in Sitka have experienced sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or both in their lifetime. This is according to a 2012 survey that questioned almost 300 women in Sitka.
The Alaska Victimization Survey, which released statewide results in 2010 and has since completed additional surveys in seven individual Alaskan communities, is the first comprehensive study of its kind to be conducted in the state.
Dr. Andre Rosay, the principle investigator for the survey, says that although the study has its limitations, it provides a more accurate representation of what’s happening.
“Many communities throughout Alaska have always experienced high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Rosay, “but that story has often been very difficult to tell. In the past, too often, we’ve relied on law enforcement numbers. And these numbers only capture the offenses that were reported to police.”
Rosay says violence against women is one the most underreported crimes, so law enforcement numbers don’t accurately portray the extent of abuse.
But even though researchers say the survey paints a more accurate picture, it might not be a complete one. For example, surveyors didn’t talk to non-English-speakers, or women without phones or residences where they could be reached.
The questions — about 200 in total — were personal and explicit, focusing on the different ways women were victimized. During the interview, surveyors looked for signs of distress – a change in tone or speed in answering questions – and periodically asked responders if they needed to stop the survey.
In five years, the survey will be conducted again. Rosay says it’s to establish if the numbers have changed, and will help in guiding future policies and practices.
Gretchen Clarke, a prevention consultant for Sitkans Against Family Violence, says that even if violence against women has decreased, it might not be reflected in the numbers at first.
“We know this is happening at greater levels,” said Clarke, “and so, as an issue that has been silent for so long, as people start to talk about it, you often will see an increase in numbers. Not because it’s happening more, but because more people feel more comfortable in being able to seek help and to talk about it.”
The Alaska Victimization Survey was funded by the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Data was analyzed by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.
For survey results, go to: http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/AVS/