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Victimization survey finds high rates of violence against Juneau women

Report focuses on physical, sexual abuse in Alaska

Posted: October 18, 2011 - 12:03am
Andre Rosay of the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage presents the Alaska Victimization Survey on Monday at Juneau City Hall.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Andre Rosay of the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage presents the Alaska Victimization Survey on Monday at Juneau City Hall.

More than half of Juneau women have been the victims of domestic violence or sexual assault at some time in their lives, with one in eight being a victim in the last year, according to a new study from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

It’s a problem that “should be shocking to the conscience of the community,” said Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who said he was surprised by the scope of the problem, despite his years of work on the issue.

The study is the most extensive ever done of Alaskan women. It is part of a group of four done around the state, and aims to provide the most accurate survey.

The survey in Juneau reached 600 women, five percent of its estimated 12,000 adult women, a thoroughness that gives the study a very low margin of error, said the university’s André Rosay.

The numbers don’t match law enforcement numbers as the actions the study defined as intimate partner violence may not directly match the legal definition of domestic violence.

Rosay joined Botelho and representatives of AWARE, Inc., the Juneau Police Department and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to review the results for local media Monday.

The survey’s results came from in-depth interviews with the 600 women, taking more than a half hour each, he said.

“We are finding very high, unacceptably high rates of violence against women,” Rosay said.

Of every 100 women in Juneau, 47 have experienced intimate partner violence, the study that includes both spouses and others in intimate relationships.

That was defined as hitting, kicking, shoving, burning or other violence.

And of every 100 women in Juneau, 35 have experienced sexual violence.

Taken together, the two categories indicated that 55 percent of women in Juneau have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both in their lifetimes.

Not all of the respondents who were identified as victims or survivors would necessarily describe themselves that way, Rosay said.

“We don’t want respondents to have to define legal terms like sexual assault or domestic violence and we don’t want respondents to have to identify themselves as a sexual assault victim or survivor,” he said.

The sexual violence number, 35 percent, included 23 percent of the respondents who said they were forcibly assaulted and 22 percent who said they were in an alcohol- or drug-related assault in which they were not able to consent.

The survey also looked at incidents in the last year, which Rosay described as much lower but still troubling.

In the last year, 12 percent of Juneau women suffered intimate partner violence, and another 1 percent sexual violence.

Rosay said that extrapolated to 118 local women becoming sexual violence victims in the last year, and 1,424 Juneau women experiencing intimate partner violence.

Similar surveys were done in Anchorage, the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Bristol Bay Borough.

The other communities’ total lifetime victimization experiences were all lower than Juneau’s 55 percent, with Bristol Bay at 52 percent, Anchorage at 51 percent and Fairbanks at 45 percent.

Rosay said the high levels statewide were disappointing because he had hoped to find communities that didn’t have problems to help identify factors that led to the violence. Instead, it found victimization of women in every community.

“These are our neighbors, friends, co-workers, mothers, daughters, people who we care about, people we love,” he said.

Juneau City Attorney John Hartle said the numbers found in the surveys were far fewer than the city’s law enforcement numbers would indicate, meaning most assaults are not reported.

“We do have a lot of victims and survivors who are not accessing police services,” Rosay said.

Rosay urged caution in making community comparisons, as respondents are more likely to report stranger sexual assaults. In a larger community such as Anchorage, there are more strangers; in Dillingham strangers are more rare.

Rosay said a number of the factors that make such surveys difficult to do may lead to under reporting even in an anonymous phone survey.

“We believe these are very conservative estimates,” he said.

There are a number of strategies at work to address the problems found, and Lauree Morton of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault said they hope to see some improvement when the next such survey is done in five years.

“We are probably not going to see significant differences in lifetime victimization numbers, they are what they are; we hope to see at some point in the future a reduction in past-year victimizations,” Morton said.

The cost of the four surveys together was $500,000. They were funded by legislative appropriations, Rosay said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juenauempire.com.

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