Almost half of the adult women in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough have experienced some form of sexual violence at least once during their lifetime. That’s the sad news to come out of a recent survey conducted by the UAA Justice Center and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Andre Rosay is director of the UAA Justice Center. He says Alaska Victimization Survey interviewers contacted close to 12 hundred women by phone for the survey earlier this year. The results did not surprise him
“Even though we found that more than half of adult women had experienced violence, we know that the estimates are conservative, and unfortunately, they are consistent with what we’ve seen in other surveys. I would like to say that I was shocked, but at this point, I’ve learned to accept that this survey reveals very, very high rates of violence. “
He says about one third.. 27.9 percent.. of adult women in the Mat Su have experienced threats of violence at some point in their life. In the past year, more than 2000 adult women in the Mat Su have experienced intimate partner violence : getting slapped, burned or hit with a fist or heavy object. The survey also covered sexually violent incidents performed by others than intimate partners. Almost a third of Mat Su adult women had suffered a forcible sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. During the past year, more than two women a day in the Mat Su experienced forcible sexual assault.
And Rosay says, what researchers know now, is that survey numbers are probably just the tip of the iceberg. The probability is that homeless women and women in shelters … who were excluded from the survey… have likely had multiple sexual assault experiences. Rosay says the survey results target the total number of women who have had experiences, not the total number of experiences. He says the survey numbers are not linked to the population growth of Mat Su
“The survey only looked at how many women had experienced violence, it did not try to delve deeper into why that violence had occurred.”
The Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is a state council within the department of public safety established in the 1980s to fund shelters, rape crisis centers and other programs and to coordinate state response to these types of issues.
Lauree Morton, executive director of the CDVSA , says the survey is part of a national effort developed by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in 2009.
“Our goal is to make sure that if a community wants the information, we can get it, and make it available to them. And for the state, we hope it’s going to be a way to measure effective strategies and public awareness campaigns that we have instituted since the governor’s “Choose Respect” initiative. “
Doctor Rosay says the half- hour phone survey covered what he described as “very graphic” questions. He said survey interviewers knew how to determine if the subject of the interview was in danger or not:
“The interviewers are very highly trained, and they are able to detect when an interview should be stopped. So, by the time we ask those very sensitive questions, they have established a very good relationship with the interviewee, and they are able to determine if this is a safe time to proceed with the interview, or whether we should stop it or reschedule it if necessary. “
The goal of the survey Rosay says, is to establish a solid base line for the Mat Su Borough. He says the Justice Center is hoping to see the Borough examine the results and assess its efforts at intervention and prevention ofsexual violence.
Morton says some programs are already in place to educate girls about sexual violence. The Fourth R is a high school curriculum for high school boys and girls to learn about healthy relationships
“There’s a running program for girls age 8 to 13, called Girls on the Run, that will be coming to Mat Su this year. And that pairs young girls with adult women and physical exercise, and also, information about how to make good choices, how to be assertive, how to know what you want and ask for that. “
Surveys conducted in other parts of Alaska had similarly high numbers. Rosay says there was some hope that researchers would find some regions with a lower rate of sexual violence, but that was not the case. So far, ten surveys around the state have been published. Two more, for Ketchikan and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, are to be made available soon.