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Senate finance subcommittee hears testimony on domestic violence funding

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Tuesday heard testimony on funding for domestic violence programs in the state from the head of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and also from Department of Public Safety Commissioner Joseph Masters.

“Over 10,600 people sought services during 2010,” said Lauree Morton, the council’s interim director. “And 61 percent described their primary issue as domestic violence.”

Morton gave an overview of the council’s work, detailing the importance of the council to the DPS. The council funded 20 victim’s service programs across the state in fiscal year 2010.

Morton also said that 26 percent said their main problem was sexual assault.

Alaska’s challenge, according to the CDVSA’s annual report, is Alaska continues to lead the national average for both domestic violence and sexual assault.

Non-statutory rape occurs in Alaska at 2.3 times the national average and the highest rate of any state. The percentage of high school students in Alaska who reported having been slapped or physically hurt on purpose during the past 12 months is above the average as well, as is the number of students forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.

The council requested an $550,000 to help with basic functions, such as the rising cost of health insurance, other insurances for emergency transportation and staff retention.

“This year in particular looks like it may be a struggle for the insurance programs,” Morton said.

Another request of $697,500 was for legal advocates. A current federally-funded legal advocate program is for one year only.

Morton also discussed a program funded through STOP (Services Training Officers Prosecutors) by Violence Against Women Act grant funds.

“If victims have access to legal services including advocacy and representation, they have a much better chance of establishing and maintaining safety,” Morton said.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, said close to $500,000 had been spent in the last couple years on prevention and asked, “Are we seeing results?”

Morton said it is too early to see results, but what is seen is the increased numbers seeking help of the domestic violence programs around the state.

“We know that our numbers are high,” Morton said. “We know that many people do not report domestic violence or sexual assault, and with the increased focused attention to those issues we have seen the numbers of people contacting the crisis lines and the programs increasing.”

Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Wasilla, asked Morton, “With the accelerated number of people reporting are we seeing a jump in the number of convictions?”

DPS Commissioner Joseph Masters said the Department of Law had also increased its efforts and its internal policies on the prosecution of domestic violence cases.

“It may be a while before we actually get the statistics but it appears, at least anecdotally, that we are seeing an increase in the number of cases being referred and accepted for prosecution. I would expect with the DOL’s increased efforts to focus on prosecution that there is an increased level, although I cannot give you a figure.”

Morton also mentioned public awareness and prevention campaigns throughout the state, including Alaska Men Choose Respect, Stand Up Speak Up Youth Initiative, The Fourth R, and Delta/Pathways Community Based Prevention Projects.

The Fourth R (Relationships), a program out of Canada revised to fit Alaska’s specific needs, was implemented in 20 schools around the state to help connect with parents through children.

“You name the community and it is probably in this group,” Morton said of the Pathways program. “It has come together to look at domestic violence specifically and in the last year has merged with a statewide rape prevention to end this violence.”

Stand Up Speak Up engages teenagers in leadership positions to speak out against domestic violence and sexual assault, helping to develop leadership skills and the opportunity to have input on the different prevention activities and media campaigns and messages.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, asked Morton to ponder philosophically, since Alaska’s rates are twice the national average, if all the small steps being taken incrementally are going to get the state to where it wants to go.

“If you had a budget of $25 million, where would you spend it?” he asked.

Morton stated a large portion would go in the communities on bystander prevention efforts, aimed towards having friends, neighbors, and relatives of those engaged in the violent behavior to stand up and speak out.

“Call attention to it,” Morton said. “Say to that person that is not OK, we are not a community that tolerates this type of violence. Funding itself is not going to get us to a place where we have peaceful communities. But I think individually as we all step up and say it is not OK and we want peace and we will encourage that in our thoughts and in our words and our actions, which is where we will make the difference.”

Morton also said it was important to have a cohesive statewide message, regional messages tweaked to various diverse communities in the state, and to ensure people have accurate translations of that information.

Morton would also increase victims’ access to services closer to their home communities, particularly for sexual assault exams.

French said he shared the belief getting every victim an exam as soon as possible after an assault was important, and wondered who paid for the nurses’ salaries for those exams.

“Through their agencies,” Morton said. “If they are in a hospital, the hospital pays for their salaries.”

French asked if more exams would lead to more prosecutions and Morton stated there was evidence to that effect, both nationally and at the state level.

Morton said while it was the goal of the council to focus on the victims, it is also a goal to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and paying for restitution.

“Many of the programs operate on a sliding scale fee for monetary or community service,” Morton said. “Anyone can be a victim of a violent crime. It has more to do with the person who chooses to commit the crime than it does with the person who has the crime committed against them.”

Olson asked what other states with lower domestic violence rates were doing that seems to be working better.

“I don’t know that they are doing that many things different,” Morton said. “I think that some of the prevention efforts sweeping the nation have a few years on us. I think that reporting is always the question, do we actually have more domestic violence and sexual assault or have better reporting, or a combination. It could be for us that it is a combination and we actually hope to see our numbers increase over the next few years. Because we think that will show that people are more comfortable with the system and knowing that they can get help.”

The Tuesday testimony will be considered as part of the state’s overall spending plan being crafted by the finance committees of both the Senate and the House.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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