October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and last week, the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey was released. It was designed to obtain statewide estimates on intimate partner and sexual violence, to establish a baseline. The survey was conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Justice Center. It was a statewide telephone survey of adult women residing in households with at least one land or cell phone line, and the women were English speaking. It measured both threats of physical violence by asking, "Have your romantic or sexual partners made threats to physically harm you?" The survey also asked respondents if they had suffered one or more types of physical violence from a romantic or sexual partner.
The research indicates that 47.6 percent of adult women in Alaska experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime, 31 percent experienced threats of physical violence and 44.8 percent experienced physical violence. Nearly one of two women in Alaska experienced intimate partner physical violence in their lifetime.
In the past year, 9.4 percent of adult women experienced intimate partner violence, with 5.8 percent experiencing threats of physical violence and 8.6 percent experiencing physical violence. Many women currently in crisis were unlikely to be surveyed, as women were not contacted if they were in shelters, homeless or in prison.
We know these blatant manifestations of domestic violence, yet there are also more subtle forms of domestic violence, more subtle forms of patterned abuse of power and control over an intimate partner.
In every relationship where there is physical violence, there is also emotional violence - name calling, put downs, being made fun of. There is isolation - having to abandon friends or family because your partner makes it difficult for you to be around them, lack of access to work or to transportation; there are often threats, such as "if you leave me, I'll get the kids," or "if you leave, I'll find you," or "if you leave, I'll kill myself." There is economic abuse - questioning every dollar spent, having everything of value in the abuser's name only, making unilateral decisions about how money is spent, or holding her responsible for paying the bills without enough income to pay them.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is also a time to remind ourselves of what makes for a healthy relationship. I wonder what the results would be if women across Alaska were surveyed with these questions:
Have your romantic or sexual partners ensured you were included in major decisions or any decisions impacting you? Supported your relationships with your own friends? Provided kindness and support for you to be the best person you could be? Treated you as an equal and negotiated fairly with you? Shared equal responsibility for parenting? Shared an environment of trust and support? Made choices that show respect for you? Asked the very same of you?
I believe our most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. I wonder what the research would show if women and men across Alaska were surveyed with these questions: Do you allow yourself to be human, to make mistakes and learn from them? Do you surround yourself with people who hold you up, who help you be the best you can be, and do you offer the same for others? Do you make choices based on your values and beliefs? Do you offer yourself the same benefit of the doubt you offer others? Do you allow yourself to change your mind? Do you make choices that show self respect?
When we choose respect for ourselves, we are also choosing respect for others. When we choose respect for others, we are also choosing respect for ourselves.
We have an opportunity to create an atmosphere and community of healthy relationships, a new generation where the percentage of women who have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner shrinks from 47.6 percent in 2010 to an Alaska known as the state that has made the greatest turnaround in the incidence of violence against women.
Thank you for doing your part in creating an environment of peace, inside and out.
Tabachnick is the Executive Director of AWARE, Inc.