Why are Wrangell and Petersburg covered in dots?

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KSTK

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KSTK

Last weekend, in the middle of the night, 100 red dots mysteriously appeared on benches, signposts and trees around Wrangell and Petersburg.

Word on the street is abuzz this week with curiosity about these little red dots.

Some find them surprising, others find them disturbing. But there’s one thing that’s for sure—they’ve been noticed.

“You know, we did notice that quite a few of those red dots were taken down and I think that’s perfect. We want those red dots to go away,” says Falle.

Julie Falle is a school counselor with Alaska Island Community Services, or AICS. She says that making people stop and pay attention is the whole point.

Each of the laminated paper circles describes some type of violent act.

There are dots for sexual violence, school bullying, domestic violence and stalking.

“You know, statistics show that 75% of Alaskans either have experienced some form of violence or know of someone who has and that’s a really high number. That’s definitely something that is maintained on our radar,” says Falle.

The red dots are part of a nationwide campaign called Green Dot. In Southeast, it’s funded through a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant or SPFSIG. Falle is one of the AICS grantees and works on prevention and awareness of minor alcohol consumption and adult binge drinking.

But, she says, this is the first time she and her grant partners at Petersburg Mental Health Services have tried a project like this.

“It’s an intervention we are kind of tailoring to Alaska. It’s never quite been done in a community-wide setting. It’s always been very specific communities like college campuses, high school campuses, things like that. So it’s actually kind of exciting and interesting to see how people respond to it because it’s not been done before,” says Falle.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KSTK

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KSTK

She says the response has varied from avid support to people feeling upset that the dots bring back bad memories.

And that’s why the red dots are slowly going away. Over the course of the month, each violent dot will be replaced by a green circle describing ways people can combat violence in their communities.

“Often we feel uncomfortable when we are witnessing a violent action. It could be the neighbor next door that’s yelling a little too loud. It could be the sound of a slap. It could be witnessing someone being pulled from the bar. We tend to feel uncomfortable and not know what to do in these situations. Green Dot kind of empowers people. The green dots you’ll be seeing around town give examples of what you can do,” says Falle.

Green Dot works with a three-tiered strategy of the three D’s—Direct, Delegate, and Distract.

Direct is self-explanatory—engaging with people in a violent situation to stop it.

Delegate means getting help from people who are better equipped to handle the problem, like police, EMS, or a family member.

Distract is a bit more passive. Falle says if you see someone being dragged out of a bar, for example, you can text or call the perpetrator. She says breaking a person’s focus during violence can be a calm, safe way to intervene.

“And they find that can be just as effective as stepping in—just as effective as physically getting in between a fight which often you don’t want to do. You want to protect your safety,” says Falle.

Falle says the red dot/green dot project may seem somewhat obscure at first. But, she hopes it will start a community discussion that needs to happen.

“I would say that Wrangell is no different from any community in that we’re identifying that violence is prevalent throughout Alaska and states down south as well so, we’re not singling Wrangell out as a violent community. We are merely trying to provide tools to prevent any violence in the future,” says Falle.

Falle says if Green Dot reaches just 20 percent of Wrangell or Petersburg, it will be a big step toward a future free from violence.