The Department of Public Safety is reminding Western Alaskans that they have resources to get help following reports of domestic violence related incidents that resulted in the death of five people in late June.
In a press release from July 1st, DPS urged Alaskans to work with law enforcement and their communities to stand up against domestic violence.
Over the course of nine days, spanning from June 22nd to July 1st, five Alaskans were killed in incidents that Alaska State Troopers say appear to be domestic violence related. Those individuals were Lawrence Paul of Grayling, Rhoda Adams of Noatak, Carol Whalen of McGrath, and both Ray Phillip and Bajon Augline of Alakanuk.
L. Diane Casto is the Executive Director for the Council of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, an organization within the Department of Public Safety. She says that DPS wants the public to be aware of those concentrated incidents.
“We need to do better. All of us. This is a situation that takes not just the Department of Public Safety… it takes a whole community of people and programs and individuals who are saying, ‘Enough is enough. We need to figure out why this is happening.’”
Casto went on to say that it is possible some of these domestic violence events are related to the coronavirus pandemic and the stresses caused by the slowing economy or community lockdowns. But right now, the department doesn’t know what directly caused the recent spike in rural Alaska deaths.
The CDVSA works to combat domestic violence and assault in rural communities through community partnerships or contributing funds directly to locally run programs: like the Bering Sea Women’s Group or the Emmonak Woman’s Shelter.
But they still have to overcome the challenge of Alaska’s vast geography and Casto says they mostly operate out of hub communities.
“It’s harder to get services out there, both Trooper services as well as domestic violence resources.”
And that hasn’t been made easier during COVID-19, many of their sub-grantees focus on prevention through education which takes place in schools that haven’t been open since March.
Casto is hopeful that money coming from the U.S. Department of Justice will help communities develop the local resources they need. But until then, she says her organization is focusing on preventative programs that help people recognize what healthy relationships look like.
“Until we say, ‘no we are not going to allow this to happen in our communities, in our state and in our families,’ it will continue to happen until that time.”
Last year, a state of emergency for public safety was declared in Alaska. But DPS Commissioner Amanda Price said in a statement that the recent deaths were, “a tragic and a stark indication that the blight of domestic violence occurring across Alaska hasn’t ebbed.”
The Alaska State Troopers are not reporting this recent string of five deaths as being part of a larger trend.
The Council of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault encourages anyone experiencing violence to reach out even if they don’t want to file a police report. More resources can be found www.dps.alaska.gov/cdvsa.
Image at Top: Alaska State Troopers vehicle in Western Alaska. Photo from Alaska State Troopers file, used with permission.