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[This article was co-authored by Rebecca Barker and Heather Aronno.]
The UAA Justice Center recently played host to a panel focused on raising awareness and directing action toward ending domestic violence. The “NO MORE Silence in the Dark” panel capped off a week of activities including student volunteers handing out free donuts on campus and asking people to take part in a social media campaign involving taking a photo with their own written statement: “I say NO MORE because…,” which was posted to the UAA Says No More Facebook page.
The NO MORE campaign is a national awareness raising campaign geared toward ending domestic violence and sexual assault. Backing organizations include 1in6, Inc. A CALL TO MEN, Break the Cycle, and a host of other national and local groups dealing with domestic violence in one way or another.
The panelists covered a wide swath of related fields. Dr. Marney Rivera represented the UAA Justice Center faculty. Enforcement was represented by Alaska State Troopers program coordinator Randi Breager, Anchorage Police Officer Rhonda Street, and Officer Dave DeLesline. Shannon Eddy spoke on behalf of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA) Legal Project. Forensic nurse examiner Dr. Angelia Trujilo spoke as a faculty partner of the NO MORE organization and the UAA School of Nursing. Dr. Ryan Fortson from the UAA Justice Center moderated the panel.
After a few technical difficulties that are a part of any real UAA lecture, Dr. Rivera took the audience through the definitions of domestic violence that are used in terms of statistics and measurement. “The way that we define this problem is going to affect the way that we measure it,” Rivera explained.
“Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior. It’s not a single event, it’s not a one-time event. It’s not a single event. Domestic violence is committed to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner…Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions. And this includes the following behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or whatever.”
Got all of that?
Rivera then moved on to the more sobering domestic violence and sexual assault statistics in Alaska. The numbers from the Alaska Victimization Survey were staggering:
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Alaska has one of the highest rates of reported rape in the country.
Out of every 100 women in Anchorage alone, 42 have experienced intimate partner violence.
Out of 100 women in Anchorage, 30 have experienced sexual violence.
Taking crossover into account, 51 out of 100 anchorage women have experienced one or the other or both.
“This is terrible,” Rivera said. “This is not something we want to be first in place for in Alaska.”
Randi Breager introduced herself and Officers Street and DeLesline as the “legal” part of the panel. She explained that Alaska doesn’t have a statute specific to domestic violence, so troopers and officers must use a complicated and nuanced formula to identify whether a case qualifies as domestic violence, and what action is necessitated once it meets that criteria.
Officer Dave DeLesline spoke about the difficulty of taking action on a domestic violence call, as the offending action has generally taken place before police arrive. Later, during the question and answer session, DeLesline expressed empathy for domestic violence victims placed in the position of extricating themselves from an abusive relationship.
“It’s hard to leave someone that you love, because something in that relationship was really good at some point, and you have experiences with these people that tie you together. And it’s hard to walk away from that.”
Officer Rhonda Street is one part of a two-person-team that makes up the Anchorage Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit. To emphasize: there are only two people assigned to covering Anchorage’s many domestic violence cases. She spoke professionally but candidly about this situation.
“I wish our unit was bigger, but it’s not. Maybe someday it will be.”
Shannon Eddy is the staff attorney at the Alaska Network of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. She works with Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) and Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), among other groups, to break down walls between organizations in order to provide clients of these programs a more holistic experience. She trains advocates to take part in this effort. Eddy declined to have her picture taken, which says something about the way she can become embroiled in the struggles and potential dangers of her clients’ lives.
To finish the panel, Dr. Angelia Trujilo summed up the purpose (and generally unspoken lament) of the panel: why don’t we talk about this? She explained the tenets of the NO MORE organization:
No more fear
No more ignorance
No more blame
No more silence
No more doing nothing
That’s a heady responsibility to lay on a group of students who stalwartly lasted through a two-hour panel on a difficult subject matter (one that affected at least a few present very emotionally.) Trujilo was upbeat but emphatic. She told the audience that taking action could be as simple as talking with people if they seemed to be going through a rough time. She explained that patience was needed.“It can take seven to nine times for someone to leave their abuser.” She left the audience with this final responsibility: “I challenge each of you that we can make a new future.”
After the event, we were left to process the tremendous amount of information that had just been thrown at us.
(In an effort to share the impressions of both authors of this article, we’ll try something a little different and present them in the same way we arrived at them: through conversation.)
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]Rebecca Barker:[/symple_highlight] So, I was thinking about themes, and I think that the two themes within the panel were ignorance and inaction. Everything else seems like the function of those, including fear, victim-blaming, et cetera.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]Heather Aronno:[/symple_highlight] I agree. I would also offer the themes of, and I’m not exactly sure how to phrase this, but administration and empathy. I don’t think that any of the people speaking on the panel lacked empathy or an understanding of the subject matter, but some of them were certainly able to convey their empathy for the people stuck in a domestic violence cycle better than others.
Can you give some examples of the “inaction” theme?
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] I think I heard it most from Dr. Trajillo. She kept asking the question: why don’t we get involved?
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] Yes, she was very focused on asking questions that, truthfully, I wish she would have asked at the beginning of the presentation. But perhaps we all needed to get on the same page about the definitions of domestic violence and available services before we could start looking at the deeper question of “why?”
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] And the inaction of police, bound by law. I think the “same page” responsibility is a tough one when you’re trying to balance public education with activist goals. You have to teach to the 101 level.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] That’s true, and I think that the panel was essentially a form of Domestic Violence 101. We got an introduction to what domestic violence is, as defined by specific institutions. It was explained how domestic violence is identified and categorized for purposes of study and statistics. We were told of the difficulties that officers face when they try to intercede in domestic violence cases, as well as the challenges they deal with in trying to prosecute those cases. We were also told about the legal process, and the hurdles that domestic violence victims (and their lawyers) can face.
And then, at the end, we were asked “why?” and challenged to make a new future.
I’m not discounting the education necessary to get to the question of “why.” I suppose my frustration stems from the need for continuing education on this topic. It’s not the fault of the panelists that they were asked to pack collective decades of experience into a two-hour panel.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] So if we were to pretend we were building a “How To” manual for young activists, we’d have to note 1) continuing public education is just that, ever ever continuing and 2) get to the “why” faster.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] And that takes us back to the themes of inaction and ignorance. All of the panelists seemed sincere in their efforts to teach something to the assembled crowd. They seemed to truly care that we had an understanding of the topic from their perspective. I appreciated that earnestness.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] And yet…
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] Yes, I think that’s a good way to put it. I was filled with a desire to be told what to do. And that’s kind of foolish, as if the answers were already known, it likely would have been discussed more openly and earlier. But that’s the inner activist in me. If you’re telling me there’s a problem, tell me what you want me to do to help.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] That’s a difference between us. I am personally frightened by activism and being told what to do in a context like that. What I wanted in that talk was more talk about the structural factors that contribute to violence against women, whether domestic violence or sexual abuse.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] And that’s important to keep in mind, as I recognize that not everyone approaches a problem in the way that I do.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] I wanted them to say a single word about funding, just one. Officer Street came the closest with her line: “Of course we don’t follow up on every case, there are only 2 of us.”
The phrase “structural violence” never came up once in that two hours, even though everyone there works through it every day.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] Funding! Funding would have been a very worthy topic to add to the discussion. What would you have wanted them to discuss, in terms of funding? How does that tie into structural violence? I don’t necessarily expect you to have the answers, but what were you hoping they would delve into further?
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight]Well, that’s a tough one and I’ll have to beg your pardon for being a real amateur in that regard. But I figure a Anchorage Police Department Domestic Violence unit with fewer people than the English department at UAA might be a contributing factor.
I was hoping someone would talk about the difficult topic of poverty. Because domestic violence doesn’t depend on poverty, as Officer Street was clear to state, but far as I’ve ever read, poverty helps escalate domestic violence rates.
And the lack of housing options…exactly how can you afford to have custody of your kids when you’re making $7.75 an hour?
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] But it’s not only a funding issue of the prosecution and enforcement side of things, is it? Funding also affects the aid and family services side of things. If shelters don’t have room or a way to tell people about their safe spaces, how can they help the people who need it?
You mentioned before that you were disappointed that representatives from STAR and other services programs weren’t present. What do you think they would have offered to the discussion?
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] Oh man, I don’t even know. The only STAR activists I know are survivors and thrivers. I can see how this quickly get too big, beyond even what a two hour panel can cover. It takes hours and hours of talking to even get into the real issues.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] I grumpily agree with you: the 101 angle is a constant need.
Okay, so let’s talk about some of the things that we really liked. I liked that there were plenty of seats. There were almost enough seats, though you got stuck up against a wall in the back and I jealously guarded my chair. They had a pretty strong turn-out.
I liked that there was food available, recognizing that a group of college students would get pretty antsy without snacks after a two-hour panel during dinner time. Though, the young gentleman you described with the chocolate chip cookie and cheese sandwich still gives me pause.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] If you want the people on your side, gotta give them cheese and cookies, especially if you’ve got them there through the dinner hour. I liked that the location was advertised obviously and that there were smiling people welcoming us in.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] The smiling people were great! The location was identified well, and there were helpful signs along the way. I also appreciated tips on where the free parking was located.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] I just can’t believe they got JBER folks there. All of the young people wearing the white t-shirts. That just makes me slap happy. I didn’t notice the parking. That’s “expert plus” level good.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] Oh, and the freebies. They had that big table piled out front with handy little blue books of regulations and pens and mouse pads. You had mentioned that you appreciated the freebies. I did, too. Plus, they had good prizes. I’ve never been to a panel with a raffle before. They handed out gift certificates in the $25-$100 range.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] I would bet a $50 gift certificate that it’s a personal network thing.
I would have loved to see a talk on how personal networks can be used in domestic violence prevention.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] I agree, that could have have been helpful. I also wish the Q&A session would have been longer. I did like that they didn’t make you submit your questions before the panel, though.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] Yeah, they did the questions well.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] It sounds like while there were some areas that could be improved upon, we generally agree that they did a good job dumping a ton of information on an impressionable group of students in a two-hour period. (Plus, some jaded post-graduates.)
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] We are too fancy to please. I’m looking forward to what they do next.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] I am, too! I was impressed. I don’t mean to keep focusing on the negatives. They put together a good, educational panel with a lot of attendees for a Thursday night.
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] A ton, and fewer than half of them mandated to attend. Again, power of personal networks.
[symple_highlight color=”green”]HA:[/symple_highlight] If I were to sum up my feelings on the panel, I’d put it like this: “We have problems, here are what they are. Now, go do better.”
If you had to sum up the panel and what you took away from it in a sentence or two, how would you phrase it?
[symple_highlight color=”blue”]RB:[/symple_highlight] More “No More,” please.
On that sentiment, we can both heartily agree.
(The original publication of this article incorrectly stated the results of the Alaska Victimization Survey indicated 51 out of 100 Anchorage women had experience both sexual violence and intimate partner violence. The survey actually indicated that 51 out of 100 Anchorage women have either one or both.)