More Than Half Of Bering Strait Women Report Experiencing Violence In Their Lifetime

More than half of women in the Nome census area, pictured above, say they have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. Photo: Google Maps
More than half of women in the Nome census area, pictured above, say they have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. Photo: Google Maps

A recent study reveals that 51 percent of women in the Nome Census area have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence — or both — during their lifetimes.

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Andre Rosay leads the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center team that conducted the study, which was supported by Kawerak Wellness and the Bering Sea Women’s Group. Rosay says the study is the first of it’s kind in the Bering Strait region — going beyond Nome to include 15 neighboring communities.

The numbers are staggering; more than half of the women surveyed say that they’ve experienced specific acts of violence, either sexual or physical, during their lifetime.

“And what’s even more shocking is when you think about the fact that that’s a conservative estimate,” said Rosay.

He explained the study, which was conducted using randomly selected phone numbers, excludes certain demographics. The survey results only included women who speak English, and have a permanent address. Questions were also designed to be behavior specific — meaning women were asked about certain examples of violent behavior, but not all possible behaviors.

Additionally, Rosay said the survey doesn’t account for the number of times a woman may have experienced violence in her life — only that she has experienced it.

Despite its limitations, the survey revealed that roughly one in two women in the region have experienced some kind of violence in their lifetime — and one in ten have experienced violence in the past year.

“So I think the conclusion that we’ve reached is that the level of violence against women is really unacceptably high,” Rosay said. “And that is true throughout Alaska, for every single region.”

Panganga Pungowiyi is the Director of Kawerak’s Wellness Program. She says the new data gives service providers an unprecedented tool to track, and potentially treat, domestic violence issues in the region.

However, she acknowledges that the numbers are not easy to hear. And she’s prepared for a variety of responses from community members — not all of them positive.

“Anger is a very natural reaction to numbers like this. Anger is a very natural reaction to the behaviors. But in the overall picture, when we’re looking to change things, it’s so important to steer that anger in the right direction and use it as energy to address issues,” she said.

Pungowiyi added that her own reaction to the numbers is mixed. As a provider who works to promote wellness in the region, she said she’s relieved to see concrete data on the issue.

But as a person who has experienced some of the behaviors listed in the survey, she also feels for women who took the survey and responded “yes.”

“I feel empathy and I feel hurt for them,” said Pungowiyi. “And also I feel relieved because many times people don’t speak about the hurts that have happened to them. So to be on the phone and have someone say, ‘Yes I believe you and I’m sorry this happened to you’…I think it would feel good to know that somebody cared.”

Moving forward, both Pungowiyi and Rosay hope the numbers will serve as a touchstone for more open discussion of the issue.

“I really hope that the numbers can be helpful to raise awareness,” said Rosay. “Not just in Nome, but throughout Alaska. And we really hope that will generate discussion about our next steps. And what can we do to lower these rates.”

Pungowiyi said the increased transparency also creates a learning opportunity on the part of service providers.

“We ask people what are the successes you’ve had intervening in violent situations,” she said. “We ask people to honor their own strengths. Because they are strong. People in this area have survived a lot. And we want honor that…and to build on it.”

Both Kawerak Wellness and the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center intend to use the survey as a baseline for future data gathering, with a follow-up survey planned for 2020.

Francesca is a reporter at KNOM in Nome.

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