AWARE shelter celebrates 25 years

Director: Laws have improved, violence remains a problem

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2003

In the 25 years that the AWARE shelter has served women trying to escape domestic violence, new laws and increased awareness have made it easier to prosecute abusers, said AWARE Executive Director Saralyn Tabachnick.

But domestic violence remains a problem in Juneau and other Southeast communities, and that's why the 48-bed shelter is still here.

"We want to give women education, because information is power," Tabachnick said Wednesday.

AWARE is holding a "Take Back the Night March" that will start from the Capitol at 5 p.m. Friday and culminate in a chili feed and dance at the National Guard Armory at 6 p.m.

The shelter took in 100 women and 81 children between July 2002 and July 2003, and accompanied about 36 rape victims to the hospital for an examination, she said.

AWARE, which stands for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies, provides support groups, as well as education on sexual assault dynamics and the relationship between chemical dependency and abuse, among other subjects. Shelter staff assist women in legal matters such as obtaining protective orders against abusive husbands or boyfriends. They also help them find housing, employment and public assistance.

AWARE does not take in men - no men are allowed in the shelter - but Tabachnick said the shelter receives calls several times a year from men who have been victims of domestic abuse, and it helps them obtain shelter and services at other locations.

"We certainly recognize that men can be victims as well," Tabachnick said.

The first AWARE shelter opened in Juneau in 1978, but the organization started two years earlier, said Caren Robinson, who was one of the shelter's first co-directors.

"In the beginning we primarily focused on sexual assault. There had been quite a few women who had been raped in the community. We started realizing the number of women that were being abused," said Robinson, who worked with AWARE for nine years and later served on the Juneau Assembly and as a state representative.

The organization's first step was to set up a crisis line. Women who called were taken in by volunteers.

Before the shelter opened, victims "stayed in their homes, or they fled to neighbors, or they rode in back seats of police cars, or they went to a hotel," Robinson said.

It was difficult for women in those situations to obtain welfare because they didn't have a permanent address.

The first shelter opened in a two-bedroom house in Lemon Creek.

"We were always full and had women sleeping on the floor," Robinson said.

Later the shelter moved downtown and, in 1985, to its present location on Glacier Highway several miles north of downtown.

Juneau Police Capt. Tom Porter said the shelter provides a unique and necessary service to the community.

"I wouldn't want to think about them not being there," Porter said.

Police officers are mandated by law to arrest people they suspect of domestic violence. Porter said police carry information sheets about AWARE to give to potential clients.

"Many people may not know exactly what they do, so we try to make them aware that the service is there," he said. "Domestic violence is something we see far too often. We seldom go a week without responding to some kind of domestic-violence call."

The horrible effects of violence are evident at the shelter on a regular basis, Tabachnick said.

"Some people come with such fear that they're afraid to even leave the building. I've seen some kids are inconsolable if their mom is in a mom support group - just to be separated, even if they see where their mom is," she said.

But AWARE does not tell an abuse victim what to do, to the point of not reporting abuse to the authorities unless the victim wants it reported. An exception is made for child abuse, because of a state law that requires social service workers to report it. The question of whether to leave an abusive relationship is left to the victim.

"Domestic violence is about power and control. Our approach is to not use power or control over someone," Tabachnick said.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at

'Take Back the Night March' events

• 5 p.m. Friday - March begins at State Capitol steps. Juts up Fourth Street, takes a left on Main Street and rolls down to Egan Drive. Takes a right on Egan, marches to Whittier Street and hangs a right. Ends at the National Guard Armory.

• 6-8 p.m. Friday - Chili dinner and DJ.

• 8-10 p.m. Friday - Dance with Dag Nabbit.

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