KODIAK, Alaska — Kodiak’s new district attorney hopes recommendations from recent training in community response will improve outcomes in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.
District Attorney Gustaf Olson attended a training conference in early December on domestic violence and sexual assault in rural communities, along with Rebecca Shields of the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center and Sgt. Cornelius Sims of Alaska State Troopers.
According to Olson, about 84 percent of Native women in the United States report experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime.
“I think that number is a low report number for rural Alaska,” he said. “From my experience in western Alaska and the peninsula, I think it’s much closer to 100 percent, because when you experience violence, that doesn’t necessarily mean the violence is being perpetrated against you. That includes children who are watching their parents engaged in violence, or seeing violence inflicted on a domestic partner of somebody else.”
Olson said he was heartened to learn that Kodiak is ahead of the curve in at least one area.
A Community Coordinated Response Team consisting of victims’ advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors and the Child Advocacy Center is already in place.
“It allows all the players in the domestic violence, sexual assault community to have a say at the table and to get their concerns across and their needs met,” Olson said.
Many of the communities with representation at the conference, which was held in Arizona with attendees from all over the country, reported not having such a program in place, he said.
However, the response must continue beyond the initial contact with the victim, he said.
This includes a focus on evidence-based prosecution to ensure that offenders are both held accountable and connected to domestic violence or batterer’s intervention programs that can stop the cycle from recurring.
Evidence-based prosecution places decisions on whether or not to prosecute on the state rather than a survivor.
“One of the first things a perpetrator will do is attempt to exert pressure on the survivor,” he said. “If we can give the victim the out, that it’s not on them … They’re not responsible for the prosecution, it’s on the evidence.”
This makes it more important that survivors know their local law enforcement or public safety officers, or make contact with victim advocates at KWRCC who can provide not only safety, but guidance for preserving evidence, he said.
For example, a survivor of sexual assault should avoid showering or washing the clothes worn at the time of the assault, something more difficult in the villages where weather delays can increase the response time by days.
“That’s just another one of the challenges and hurdles of rural prosecution in these cases,” he said.
Olson would like to see more intervention programs in Kodiak for perpetrators of abuse.
“If you don’t give them the tools and opportunity to change, they just fall into the same cycle,” he said.
There is one batterer’s intervention program in Kodiak. Otherwise, these services are left to the Department of Corrections or off-island programs that can be prohibitively costly.
Olson recommends that everyone from Kodiak and the surrounding villages learn who their point of contact is in the event of an emergency.
Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com