Safe and Fear Free Environment, Inc (SAFE) is in Dillingham, Alaska.
SAFE is Bristol Bay's shelter and advocacy agency for domestic violence and
sexual assault victims. Dillingham, a community of 2400 people, serves
as a hub for as many as twenty-five surrounding villages and has a
geographic service area approximately the size of the state of Ohio.
Few roads connect Bristol Bay villages, so transportation is
accomplished mosty by plane or boat. The nearest metropolitan city is
Anchorage, 315 roadless miles northeast of Dillingham. Three air
carriers provide transportation between Anchorage and Dillingham in a
variety of plane sizes, while smaller planes provide transportation
between villages; also to and from Dillingham.
SAFE's closest sister agencies are in Unalaska (Unalaskans Standing
Against Family Violence, USAFV) and Bethel (Tundra Womens' Coalition,
TWC). Unalaska is at the beginning of the Aleutian chain and Bethel is
northwest of Dillingham at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River. In between
SAFE, USAFW and TWC is lots of land and water, where isolation can
contribute to the violence. Breaking isolation barriers for victims is
paramount in rural Alaska and can be costly and logistically
Domestic violence and sexual assault are common and overwhelming
problems in Bristol Bay. In any given year, nearly 20% of adult female
residents of the Bay are clients of SAFE. Another 10% will go through
the police and courts without ever contacting SAFE. These are just the
ones we know about. Domestic violence is substantially under-reported.
We believe it is conservative to estimate that three out of 10 adult
women in Bristol Bay will be victims of domestic violence sometime this
Adults who abuse their intimate partners are 70% more likely to abuse
their children. Children who live in homes where there is violence are
1,500 times more likely to be abused. The average number of children in
households of women who seek services from SAFE is three -- most are
under the age of 10.
Alaskan Native women are at much higher risk of abuse than non-Native
women. Alaskan Native women comprise less than 5% of the population, yet
make up nearly 60% of the reported sexual assault victims. Nearly
one-third of the women in shelters in urban areas of the state are
Alaskan Native women.
Cultural disruption has increased violence against women among Alaskan
Native Groups and Bristol Bay is no exception. Prior to western
intrusion, some Native groups were egalitarian, some matriarchal, and
some patriarchal; however, status depended more on the individual's
ability to contribute to the group instead of on gender. Violence
against women was not the norm for any Alaskan Native group. Native
Alaskans interacted through extended families, provided for their basic
needs from the land and sea, educated through oral tradition, and
focused on communal needs.
Western culture requires a lifestyle of nuclear families, wage earners,
formalized education, and a focus on individual needs. Today, while many
rural Alaskans are still dependent on subsistence, the cash system is
necessary for most basic needs. Television is available throughout the
state, which has further undermined traditional values. Elders have lost
their place of honor and respect. Being forced to reconcile western
culture with their own has led to high suicide rates, chronic
alcoholism, and increased violence against women and children.