Alaska tops a lot of lists, like best whale watching and cleanest air quality. But the state also ranks highly in something else.
“Child sexual abuse, infant rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking,” says Peggy Brown, the executive director at the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Earlier in the legislative session, a Senate subcommittee slashed all of the state funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs. It would have impacted projects like Girls on the Run and Choose Respect. Now, with the governor’s revised budget, some of that money has been put back.
Brown says when the network heard their 2016 state budget for prevention programs was being eliminated, it felt like being kicked in the rib.
“Not to use violent language. They got the breath knocked out of them a little bit,” she says.
In the five years the prevention programs existed in Alaska, there have already been signs of success. One program called the Fourth R was able to identify students who experienced sexual violence and role-play healthy relationships.
“And I think people really liked these programs. I think it gave people a certain amount of hope with these horrible numbers that maybe there were some normal simple things that normal simple folks could do rather than breaking up a fight or calling 911,” Brown says.
Now some of that lost funding might be reinstated. Gov. Bill Walker’s revised budget allocates $1.5 million for sexual assault prevention programs, about half of last year’s. Lauree Morton, the executive director of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, says she understands.
“The state’s in a difficult spot right now but that 1.5 is critical for projects moving forward,” she says.
Morton says 10 communities in Alaska currently have readiness prevention programs that help jump-start the bigger ones.
“If we have the $1.5 million restored, the number of those communities will be reduced to five,” she says.
Morton couldn’t say which locations would be cut. Projects like Green Dot, which teaches violence intervention skills, won’t be able to spread to other communities as quickly as the network hoped.
But most sexual and domestic violence prevention programs will still be able to function. Peggy Brown says for prevention work to actually be effective, it has to saturate an area for at least five years.
“And we were just at the five year mark and we were just getting data on a lot of these programs,” says Brown.
In 2011, the Alaska Victimization Survey in Juneau showed 55 out out every 100 women suffered from domestic violence or sexual assault. The network hopes that number is decreasing. A 2016 version of the survey could confirm that, but that’s contingent on the $1.5 million in the governor’s revised budget.