Communities make progress in effort to halt domestic abuse
Note: This is the second part of an ongoing series on domestic violence prevention and screening in Alaska.
Everyone has been affected by domestic violence in some way or another. It is an epidemic plaguing urban and rural areas of Alaska like nothing else.
There is a lot being done to educate, prevent and protect Alaskans from domestic violence and sexual assault, but it doesn't necessarily take boat-loads of money or catchy slogans to make progress.
We are all advocates, said Ginger Baim, the longtime director of Safe and Fear-free Environment, Inc. in Dillingham. SAFE is a non-profit agency that provides shelter and support for domestic violence victims and their loved ones. Baim has been with the organization for nearly 25 years and recently quit her post as executive director. But she is far from retired.
Baim is still on contract with SAFE and was in Homer last week providing training and information to advocates who work in the field.
"We need to think in terms of not just what we do, but what happens as a result of what we do," Baim said. "What change in someone's life is a result of what we do? Because if it's not changing their life then we shouldn't keep doing it."
Among her many successes, Baim, who recently moved to Palmer from Dillingham, was instrumental in bringing the Green Dot movement to Alaska. Green Dot is a violence prevention strategy that focuses on all community members being advocates for violence prevention by intervening when violence happens, calling police, or simply having a discussion with friends or family.
"The Green Dot ... strategy promotes violence prevention by providing community members with the skills needed to stop violence before it occurs," according to the State of Alaska's website.
If every act of violence is a red dot on the map of Alaska, Green Dot represents all those who do even the tiniest act to intervene or prevent.
A few years ago, when the initiative was introduced in Alaska, people were enthusiast about the prospect, Baim said. But the momentum has slowed and while Baim thinks it is a strategy that could have a huge positive impact, more action to get the public up to speed has to be taken.
"Now everybody's heard of it, but they didn't see any change."
That's not to say it won't work, she said. And in the last 10, five and even two years there have been huge positive shifts in the way people look at domestic violence and prevention strategies.
The dialogue is open, she said.
Like alcoholism and even suicide, domestic violence and sexual assault are symptoms of a bigger problem.
In Dillingham and the Bristol Bay region, with the help of Baim, SAFE employees and community members in all capacities, the push for a safer, violence-free society has brought noticeable change.
Baim spoke of the community mural project and other local prevention efforts that didn't cost anything, but managed to bring the topic to the surface. That collaborative work helped SAFE get a $3 million grant in 2011 to continue work on prevention and early intervention. Part of the reason SAFE was awarded the money, which was issued through the state's Domestic Violence Prevention program and Health and Social Services, was because of the region's prior "can-do prevention community collaboration for five years before we applied for the grant," said Baim.
But the community realized that some of the projects, like alcohol counseling and legal services, needed money, so they applied for and were awarded the grant.
The sum ended up being $800,000 each year for three years.
"We immediately gave out over half of that money to our partners," said Baim, adding that the partners included the Bristol Bay Native Association, Dillingham School District, Alaska Legal Services and Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation.
"I can tell you what we did, but I want to know what difference it made. The purpose of the grant was to make a paradigm shift.
"This has been such a huge issue with no progress for years and years and years. We keep changing Band-Aids but nothing heals."
The indicators of progress, said Baim, are that while SAFE has an increase of people served, they have also witnessed a 20 percent drop in shelter nights in the last two years.
"That could be a fluke, but we don't think so. I think what is happening is that people are seeking services earlier in the process.
"We have a lot fewer people waiting until they get hit."
More people are seeking the services offered by SAFE who have been referred by family or friends or bosses, which proves that more and more, Alaskans aren't afraid to speak up and recognize the early signs of violence.
"That tells me something has changed.
"It tells me that a lot more people are aware of it and that it's important enough that they should intervene."