The domestic violence shelter in Sitka is stepping up its community training program following the release of new survey data last year.
SAFV, or Sitkans Against Family Violence, has routinely offered volunteer advocate training, but now the organization is hoping to involve more of the community in how to recognize — and address — Sitka’s incredibly high rate of intimate partner violence.
The numbers are staggering. According to the 2012 Alaska Victimization Survey, almost half of all women living in Sitka have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both.
“This is actually a surprise,” says Martina Kurzer, the community coordinator for Sitkans Against Family Violence. “Not only for us, but particularly for those who are not steeped in the issue.”
282 adult women in Sitka were surveyed last year by researchers at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center. It was part of an ongoing, statewide effort by the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Kurzer says SAFV’s training is being offered this year not just to shelter volunteers, but to the entire community — free of charge. While the Victimization Survey quantifies a significant amount of physical violence experienced by women — and the threat of physical violence — Kurzer says the training is designed to break down our assumptions.
“It’s not battering. Because that’s a very limited definition, and we will define this term. There are other terms. If somebody always puts down somebody else in a household, that’s also a violent act. It’s emotional or verbal, but we consider it violent.”
Other common assumptions, Kurzer says, are that women will want to leave a relationship if they experience violence, or that there is no love in a violent relationship. She says the training helps participants see why both may be untrue.
“Many of these assumptions just fall apart if you go through this and you start understanding what’s going on next door. You learn what to do when you witness something happen next door.”
SAFV uses a combination of shelter staff and local professionals to teach sessions, which take place over three Saturdays and three Monday evenings. Participants can drop in on any or all of the sessions. Kurzer says there is no one who would not benefit from the training — anyone who has colleagues, co-workers, patients, or students will understand them better, and become more compassionate.
“I think we have reached now the step where we as a community can step up and say, We can make a difference.”