A multi-year effort by the Women in Safe Homes organization and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Alaska Ketchikan Campus Ali Ziegler to create the Ketchikan Victimization Survey is giving a better understanding of who is experiencing a variety of types of abuse in Ketchikan.
The information gathered already has been used to prepare grants, Ziegler said in a Feb. 3 video interview via Zoom with WISH Community Services Director Arika Paquette. Other WISH staff members who had participated in the project are JD Martin and Amy Montgomery, who created the survey tool and recruitment materials, and supported the Institutional Review Board application, according to WISH information.
Ziegler, who is the vice chair of the WISH board of directors, said the survey is "helping to inform what services we might want to direct our focus toward as an organization."
For example, Ziegler said they were "a bit surprised" by the frequency of financial abuse, which was a newly added topic to the survey. That type of abuse can have many effects on a person experiencing it, such as on their ability to leave a relationship, to find new housing or to establish their own credit.
According to an earlier video presentation by Ziegler and Paquette on the WISH AK channel on YouTube, 200 women and 35 men aged 18 and older responded to the survey, which was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The survey was approved by the Institutional Review Board through the University of Alaska system, and was deemed to be compliant with all ethical guidelines.
The categories of abuse assessed in the survey were psychological, physical, digital, sexual, reproductive coercion, financial and stalking.
The survey included graphs that show the overall lifetime and past-year of victimization for the categories of All Women, Alaska Native/American Indian Women, White Women, and All Men.
Psychological abuse was reported at the highest level in all groups of people, with Alaska Native/American Indian Women reporting an 84% rate; White Women, a 70% rate; and All Men, a 60% rate.
Each category was completed by respondents reporting multiple types of experiences for each category.
The psychological abuse category, for example, listed many abusive behaviors, including "Swore, yelled or screamed at you;" "Blamed you for something they did;" "Started to hit you but stopped;" and "prevented you from doing something to help yourself."
The top three highest rates in that category were: "Swore, yelled or screamed at you," 56.5%; "Said things just to hurt your feelings," 54%; and "Told you your feelings were irrational or crazy," 50%.
The most frequent physical abuse actions included behaviors such as "Pushed, grabbed or shoved you," which held the top spot at 33%; "Slammed your head against a wall," which was reported at a 26% rate; and "Threatened to hurt you and you believed you would really get hurt," at a 25.5% rate.
Other physical abuse actions included "Beat you up," "Bent your fingers" and "Dumped you out of a car."
The most frequent digital abuse actions were: "Pressured you to respond quickly to calls, texts, or other messages," at 26.5%; "Sent you mean or hurtful private messages on social media," at 21.5%; and "Sent you so many messages that you felt uncomfortable," at 18%
Other means of digital abuse listed were: "Sent you threatening messages," "Used social media to spread a rumor about you," and "Sent you a sexual or naked picture that you did not ask for or want."
Paquette said, in the YouTube video discussing the survey, that digital abuse is "always getting more complex," as our phones grow to be more of an extension of ourselves.
The most frequently reported sexual abuse behaviors were: "Badgered you into having sex when you did not want to by repeatedly asking or begging, at 26.5%; "Touched or fondled you sexually when you did not want to," at 25.5%; and "Forced penetration on you," at 23%.
Other behaviors included: "Called you demeaning names," "Ignored, belittled or minimized your sexual preferences" and "Pressured you to have sex in front of someone else without your permission."
Under the category of reproductive coercion, the most commonly reported abusive behaviors were: "Told you not to use any birth control when you wanted to," at 11%; "Taken a condom off during sex without permission," at 10%; and "Pressured or tried to force you to become pregnant," at 7%.
Other reproductive coercion behaviors included hiding birth control and damaging condoms on purpose to cause pregnancy.
As with many forms of abuse, education is necessary for people to clearly understand what specific behaviors are abusive and/or illegal.
Under financial abuse, the most commonly reported behaviors were: "Made important financial decisions that impacted you without talking to you about it first," at a rate of 33.5%; "Used your money without permission," at 20%; and "Kept financial information from you," at 29%.
Other behaviors reported were "Used money that you needed for rent or other bills," "Made you ask for money," and "Demanded you quit your job."
Paquette said that financial abuse can be seen more frequently in families located in more remote locations, especially in households that make money seasonally, such as in logging or fishing industries. In the seasonal downtime, it can be tempting to hunker down and exert tight control on the entire household.
The last category assessed was stalking. Most-frequently reported behaviors in that category were: "Shown up somewhere you did not want them," at 21%; "Called you repeatedly, until you were uncomfortable or scared," at 18.5%; and "Sent you so many emails or texts that you were uncomfortable or scared," at 16.5%.
Other behaviors included leaving unwanted gifts, sneaking into one's home and threatening to harm respondents' children.
The questions were formulated using national surveys and state surveys, as well as formulating questions tailored to Ketchikan, Paquette said. Asking very specific questions is crucial to gathering accurate data, she explained
"The perpetrators for sure," she said, "and victims, as well, are not going to recognize all these types of behaviors as characteristic of abuse."
Using questions that are identical to former surveys also is important, she explained, because those measures have been validated as effective, and using the same questions allows them to compare data across different studies.
Paquette said results from such surveys have "skyrocketed the conversations that we're having in the schools with youth," from preschool through high school.
Teaching youth that they own the rights to their own bodies, and how nobody has the right to hurt them, and educating them on what their options are if they are being violated is an important mission for WISH, she said.
Working to teach youth about a "power and control model" of relationships and where boundaries lie, and also having conversations about different types of abusive behaviors is an important part of their work, she added.
"Getting them to think about where those power imbalances are," Paquette said, and how to use communication skills all can help to lessen abuse in relationships.
"It's really about breaking that cycle" of abuse, Paquette explained.
When young people grow up in a family in which abusive behaviors exist, they can begin to think those are normal interactions. Intervening with counseling, active listening and offering resources for education and help all are important.
Teens are taught about healthy relationships between friends and in romantic relationships, as well as what healthy home relationships should look like.
Paquette said that the Ketchikan School District has been "extremely proactive" in offering resources, counseling and help for students. WISH staff are welcomed into the schools often during the school year at every grade level. They offer evidence-based, age-appropriate curriculum with specific lessons for students.
WISH staff also use video conferencing with students who need support. The visits in the school often result in a referral to the state Office of Children's Services, Paquette said, as they have honed their approach to allow children to feel comfortable enough to share abusive experiences in their homes.
"We are really, I think in the past few years, doing a better job of making sure that we're communicating," Paquette said.
WISH, Ketchikan Indian Community and the school district have collaborated to offer free mental health services in the schools through a January 2020 grant that was awarded to WISH through the State of Alaska's Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault's Enhanced Services program.
The program has allowed WISH Youth Victims of Crimes Counselor Samantha Funk and KIC Behavioral Health Aid Tammy Hert to provide services to high school students free of charge. Paquette said there are plans to hire a counselor who will travel between elementary schools as a free support for students within six months.
WISH offers many resources that both women, men and youths can tap into. Paquette said it's important for people to know that they serve not just women and children, but also men. The organization is preparing a new, larger facility that she said will allow them to serve both genders even more easily when it is completed.
The WISH Facebook page offers information and links to useful resources. It can be found by searching for "Women in Safe Homes."
A wide variety of information about communicating with children, helping friends in trouble, finding education and counseling as well as contact numbers and addresses can be found at the WISH website, at www.wishak.org.
The WISH 24-hour emergency hotline is 907-225-9474 (WISH) or 800-478-9474.