Heidi Zemach for SCN –
Glance through a month or two of daily Seward Police Journals, and you will find numerous reports of domestic violence and sexual assault in the community. Many other incidents are never reported. Do you ever wonder if you are were sexually assaulted, or beaten up by your partner and made to live in fear, where you would go to escape, and whether the help you need be available?
SeaView Community Services’ Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (DVSA) program Director Dawn McDevitt is doing her best to pull off another “Choose Respect” rally and march through downtown Seward to honor the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska Thursday March 27th, starting at 5:15 p.m. at AVTEC gym. The DVSA will sponsor the governor of Alaska’s march, along with a variety of related educational and fundraising events for its program, which has occasionally fallen short of filling Seward’s need in recent times.
Seward’s DVSA is unique in that it is the only program staffed and run by only one person, and it is one of only two shelterless programs out of the 18 member programs, explained McDevitt. She has directed the Seward domestic violence program at SeaView for the past 15 months. All of its other programs in Alaska have full staffs available to service victims and their communities.
The local DVSA program’s no shelter approach was founded on the belief that victims and children should be able to remain in their home while the offender must leave. This is able to happen by the victim filing restraining orders against the offending partner. Seward’s program still operates under this approach, but it is challenging for those concerned, McDevitt said. With Seward’s high cost of living, it often takes two incomes to run a household. Often, the offender earns the majority of the family income, or withholds money from the victim in order to cover household expenses.
SeaView offers a wide range of services and support to victims, but since it does not operate a local shelter, it does provide “shelter nights,” which is typically a 3-4 night stay at undisclosed locations around Seward to those in immediate danger. If they should need longer shelter nights and money is not available, the program can transport victims to the nearest shelter in Kenai or Anchorage. But doing this can be very hard if the victim has a job in Seward, children in school, or if their support systems are here.
“It’s sad to say but most victims in this situation opt to return to their abuser rather than leave town,” McDevitt said.
When the program first started, in it was run effectively for many years due to several people, including Council Member Marianna Keil. Over the last few years, however, the program has suffered staffing turnover that has left the director position filled for relatively brief periods, with no one to run it for several months at a time, McDavitt said. With only one person running the program, each new person employed to fill the spot is faced with rebuilding the program anew on their own. Between directors, valuable services are potentially lost.
In 2012 for example, the position of DVSA Coordinator was empty for a few months, and the program only provided 21 shelter nights to victims of domestic violence victims. McDeavitt was hired in November of 2012, and from Jan. – June of 2013 the program provided 69 shelter nights to victims in need. From July to December it provided another 59 shelter nights. Three of the victims assisted within the last year were male, and not one of the victims assisted asked for services more than one time, according to DVSA.
As of today, March 25th, the program had already provided 34 shelter nights. Unfortunately, in 2013 there were 204 shelter nights needed that could not be provided due either to lack of funding, or because there were no locations locally available to send people, McDevitt said.
The busy tourist season is when calls for emergency services is highest. But that’s also the time when finding available rooms is the most difficult as they are filled with visitors and workers.
The DVSA program is funded 85% by a state grant. The remaining 15% is provided through local funds. As its current grant dollars are not enough to provide the number of shelter night needed, SeaView has begun vigorous fundraising efforts to enable continued services for victims in the community.
The next event is the second annual Seward Spring Carnival- April 5, 2014 at the cruise ship terminal, from 11:00 a.m.-3:00 pm. It’s a child abuse prevention carnival which will offer many tools for parents and youngsters to help keep their child safe including bullying prevention, child ID kits, and age-appropriate information for youngsters on keeping their bodies safe, games and more.
A new fundraising event is the 1st Annual Ride for Respect Poker Run- Motorcycle run from Anchorage to Seward on June 7, 2014. DVSA is expecting a few hundred participants at this event. Registration is open for this event.
The annual “Choose Respect” marches across Alaska on the third Thursday of March are the brainchild of Gov. Sean Parnell whose administration unfortunately did not realize, or realized too late that this year’s would conflict with the 50th Great Earthquake remembrance in Alaska. So the local march, with invited state dignitaries, will go forward at the same time as the ’64 Earthquake memorial at the Seward Library Museum.
SeaView’s 24-Hour Crises Line: 907-224-3027