Domestic Abuse Awareness month
This year’s Domestic Abuse Awareness month finds officials with the Healthy Wrangell Coalition working to re-establish a somewhat lapsed network of support.
Last month the coalition launched a committee to examine the potential for supporting women – and men, officials are quick to point out – who find themselves trapped in abusive situations in a community with a fine line between intimate and common knowledge. Nor is abuse limited to the sort of physical advice which often spills into the police station or the courts, said Elizabeth Brummett, a committee member and social worker with Alaska Island Community Services.
“I see them (cases of domestic abuse) a lot,” she said. “There are a variety. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Fiscal drama. This affects men, women and children.”
Committee members aren’t certain how widespread the abuse problem is. When pressed, they cite a report performed by Ketchikan-based Women In Safe Homes, which says that between January 2011 and June 2011, 98 Wrangell women took advantage of programs designed to place the abused out of reach of their abusers.
The uncertainty over statistics reflects on the discrete or downplayed nature of domestic abuse and domestic violence, Brummett said.
“In domestic violence, there’s a lot of shame,” she said.
Her organization is handing out purple ribbons to celebrate Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The way forward will involve everybody in the community, said committee member and public health nurse Mary Thibeault.
“That’s what our conversations are about,” she said. “We’re trying to find out if there’s some funding we can get.”
The ideal would be for the community to retain a full-time advocate for the issue of domestic abuse. An advocate would be able to handle the issue from all sides, Thibeault said.
“We need somebody who can spearhead prevention campaigns,” she said. “A contact person who can coordinate safe houses, someone who can run a domestic violence program from the promotional to the actual, from getting the phone call at 2 a.m. to getting somebody on the ferry that needs to go to Ketchikan.”
The program is admittedly in its early stages, Thibault said.
“We’re really just starting this,” she said. “We want to bring all the stakeholders into the conversation.”
Some of the stakeholders in question say the lack of a full-time advocate, after former advocate Janet Strom retired, puts them in a position of being the de facto response. Pastor Kem Haggard of the Harbor Light Assembly of God said the envisioned position of advocate should be sustainable, and should serve as the first point of contact for victims of domestic abuse to bring the full resources of the community to bear on domestic situations.
“Because of my position, that’s not going to be my primary role,” he said. “A lot of times I end up involved in that stuff just as clergy.”
Haggard hopes the program can take shape going forward, and go the distance.
“We need to be sure we’ve got a network in place to help out all the individuals,” he said. “I’d love to see it sustainable by the community, and I don’t even know what that would look like.”
Police officials say abuse is an issue in the community.
“It’s a major part of our casework,” said Police Chief Doug McCloskey.
Some standard means for helping the community could be out of reach for Wrangell, given the community’s size and intimacy, McCloskey added.
“Something like a safe house is pretty difficult to work,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody. We find that at least in the past it’s been about as handy to send anybody to Ketchikan when the need arose. I’m sure that to some degree, the same holds true for Ketchikan. It’s probably true for a lot of communities in the Southeast.”