More often, intense and isolating: How the pandemic might be impacting Alaska’s domestic violence rates

Published: Dec. 24, 2020 at 2:08 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is compiling data from 2020 to find out how the pandemic has impacted reports of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska.

The state recently released a report on felony sex offenses in Alaska in 2019 that shows reports of felony-level sex offenses decreased by 10.7% compared to 2018. It found that in most cases, the victims and suspects had relationships; only 11% of cases identified the suspect as a stranger. The report also notes that 74% of the incidents reportedly happened at a residence or home.

“You know, it isn’t surprising, especially for those of us who work in the field, but it is surprising to the general public,” said Diane Casto, executive director of CDVSA. “There’s still a perception in the country, not just here in Alaska but across the country, that sexual assault is somehow the stranger who comes upon someone and rapes them or you know, there’s a sexual assault by a stranger. That is just not the case. It hasn’t been the case for many years.”

CDVSA funds 35 programs across the state aimed at prevention, education and victim support. While all of the programs have remained open during the pandemic and continue to serve Alaskans, Casto said the way in which Alaskans are able to reach out for help has changed.

Casto also said she finds a decrease in reports concerning, rather than encouraging.

“We know that these cases are always under-reported,” she said.

The council is comparing data from the first half of the fiscal year 2020 to the last six months and also surveyed Alaskans in April.

“What we saw was an increase in calls, because it’s easier to call, and a decrease in the number of victims who were coming in and reaching out for services directly,” she said. “So we know that it certainly impacts peoples’ ability to get out of the house to go and seek out services in person.”

Casto said they noted a significant increase, around 50%, in the number of calls to crisis lines.

“Everyone’s mental health is suffering right now. We’re all feeling stressed. We’re all feeling cooped up. We’re tired. We’re anxious,” she said. “And one of the things we know about abusive behavior is that the more stress there is in their lives, the more volatile the abuse can become, the more spontaneous abuse can become, the more regularly it can occur, so while we don’t have actual data, we have heard from individuals about those kinds of stressors that we know are increasing.”

While comprehensive data for 2020 is not yet available, Casto suspects the domestic violence has become an even more urgent issue during the pandemic.

“I would say it is probably getting worse because people can’t get to help. So do I think that there is a lot more domestic violence happening? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that it’s probably more intense, it’s more often, and it’s more isolating,” Casto said. “So, is it really an increase in the violence or is an increase in the level, the intensity, it’s, again, hard to know, but we do know that there is a lack of ability to reach out and get the services they need.”

Casto said Alaskans can be part of the solution by being brave and speaking out when they notice something that isn’t right and supporting programs that are working to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska.

“If you live in a community that has a program that works with this population, give them a call and say, ‘What can I do to help? What do you need right now? What do you need, especially during the holiday season?’” she suggested.

Resources: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). For immediate assistance in an emergency, call 911.

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