A group of Juneau women are making a grass-roots connection with Russian women on the subject of domestic violence and the need for women's shelters. As a result, two Russian women will spend part of the summer at a local shelter, seeing how rescue and recovery is handled here.
``The two women will take the role of staff interns but, because they are living at the shelter, they will also see what it's like to be a resident and share chores and mealtimes,'' said Annette Coggins, executive director of Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE).
``We agreed to put them up here if we could come up with money to offset the food cost,'' Coggins added.
Linda Pearson is one of the women organizing the visit.
``We want to keep these connections going with minimum money,'' Pearson said. ``The Sakha Republic is paying the airfare both ways, and I am working with other women and groups to come up with their spending money and money for food. It's a person-to-person connection.''
Pearson said one of the Russian women she spoke with claims the country's culture is so deep into denial about domestic violence that there is no word in the language for the abuse. And victims are blamed for ``bringing it on themselves,'' Pearson said.
She saw this phenomenon in action about seven years ago, when she and her friend Linda Chamberlin visited Petropavlosk. Chamberlin, an expert in the field of domestic violence, was asked to speak to the psychologists and psychiatrists who manage counseling services for the entire region.
``Suddenly there was an uproar from the audience, and when the interpreter calmed them down, she told Linda that what they were saying was that `men beat these women because of the character defects of the women,''' Pearson said.
``That was a real `Ah, ha' moment to us; no wonder that these (victimized) women don't seek counseling,'' Pearson said.
Statistics for domestic violence in Russia ``are not kept in any good fashion,'' Pearson said, but she suspects the incidence of violence against women is about the same as it is in Alaska.
The women are due to arrive about June l and stay six to eight weeks, Coggins said. A letter of invitation from Coggins and AWARE will be hand-delivered to the Sakhalin women in a few days by Tanya Martymova, a resident of Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic.
Martymova is executive director of an international cross-cultural alcohol program which has its main office in Juneau. She has been in town since March 1, seeking an opportunity for interns. She visited the Sitka shelter, but the the Juneau shelter made her an offer too good to pass up.
She will fly to Anchorage today to attend a three-day program on traditional parenting. Then it will be on to Yakutsk, where she will look for ``two women who speak English and have a commitment to help other women,'' Martymova said. The women will be chosen from the population of Chersky, the northernmost part of Sakha.
``We have established our first shelter in Chersky,'' Martymova said. ``Now we need to strengthen it and establish more all over the Republic. We are fortunate the government is helping us, because there is a big denial about the problem of domestic violence. Therefore, we have to start on this grass-roots level.''
Because of the efforts of Martymova and her supporters, one Sakhalin woman already interned at a Fairbanks shelter, and two others spent time last summer at the Kotzebue women's shelter visiting surrounding villages. The pair returned to Chersky and founded a shelter in two rooms; it often shelters 12 to 20 women at a time.
Coggins is looking for local residents who speak Russian and would like to share potluck dinners or other gatherings with the visiting women. Contributions are also welcome. For more information call 586-6623.
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