Kodiak residents will rally in support of healthy relationships and against domestic abuse on Thursday, March 23, as part of the Choose Respect March. It’s the first march since before the pandemic; it starts at 12 p.m. at the Sun’aq Tribal Hall in downtown Kodiak.
The Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center is one of the organizers of this year’s march. KMXT’s Kirsten Dobroth spoke to KWRCC’s outreach coordinator, Ellamy Tiller, ahead of the march. She said the pandemic presented unique challenges and learning opportunities for the organization.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity, and a note for some listeners: this conversation includes discussion of sexual and domestic violence.
Ellamy Tiller: It was a complicated and kind of scary time for our agency. And for agencies like ours all over the country. We knew that there were people who were afraid to come into shelter because they were afraid of getting sick if they were sharing space with other people. We knew that there were people who were on lockdown with their perpetrators with their abusive partners, and so couldn’t get private space to call us or to get away and come in. There were some people we were really worried about. One thing that we did get a lot better at during the pandemic, and that we’ve been able to keep up since then. It’s kind of boosting our crisis line and our teen line. So that folks can, you know, find out how to get ahold of us, even if they can’t come in, we also got a lot better about kind of paying attention to our Facebook messages, and other social media, and making sure that people could find ways to contact us through our website through email, things like that.
Kirsten Dobroth: I was just about to ask if there was anything from the pandemic that you had taken and were still using as tools in your toolbox.
Yeah, I mean, definitely, those kinds of things helped us realize how we could be reaching out to folks who don’t even live in Kodiak, how important it was to be accessible for folks say, in villages, or even in mainland Alaska or other parts of the country, we’ve had folks calling our crisis line or emailing us from all over America. And usually we can manage to get them connected to someone in their area that does what we do. But it’s been really nice to be able to kind of help folks that they can’t physically come into our building because they don’t live in town. So, especially I think, for our villages, that’s been really important. And that’s certainly something we’re still working on improving.
Data released recently showed that while most crime across Alaska has been going down, violent crime, including assault, and rape has actually gone up over the last decade. Is that surprising to you? And how reflective is that of what you’re seeing in Kodiak?
It’s unfortunately not surprising. It is really heartbreaking because in a lot of ways, as a society, we’re getting a lot better about talking about these kinds of violence, about standing up against these kinds of violence. Things like our Choose Respect initiative – people are aware of these issues and are more comfortable talking about these issues. And the more you can talk about things, the easier it is to stop them from happening or to prevent them from happening all together. But unfortunately, especially during the pandemic, we’ve seen a significant spike in incidences around the island. And what’s been really interesting is while we had a lot less contact in the initial stages of the pandemic, we’ve had a lot of folks reaching out to us in the last six months about assaults that happened a year ago, two years ago. So, there’s definitely still lots of support that we can give folks, and we encourage everybody to reach out and to contact us, no matter how long ago something happened. There’s definitely ways we can help. But it is just hard to think, you’ve been dealing with this by yourself for the last two years. That’s a long time to have that weight on you.
And you brought up the Choose Respect March, that is this week. Can you tell me a little bit about that, and how that kind of fits into what we’re talking about right now.
The Choose Respect March started under Gov. Parnell several years ago, and it used to be a statewide initiative, just kind of Alaskans taking a stand and choosing respect over violence. It’s an anti-violence, pro-healthy relationships, pro-healthy interactions kind of movement. Just to kind of say, as a community, these are things we believe in, we believe in treating each other with kindness with respect with compassion, we haven’t been able to have one in a few years. And this is our first one, I want to say since 2018, that we’ve been able to do in person. So we’re really excited.
Takeaways from this conversation: I’m sure there’s people that are listening to this and it really resonates with them. There might also be other people listening who might not feel like they know somebody who has experienced this. What are your takeaways for them? And how can we all move forward in ways that support each other in the community?
In Alaska, 58% of women have experienced domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime. That’s more than half, and we do not have reliable statistics for men or non-binary folks. But we know that those numbers are pretty significant, too. That means if you know more than a couple of women, you probably know someone that has experienced this kind of violence, whether you’re aware of it or not, you almost definitely do. It’s just really important to always be aware if you’re with a group of people, if you’re talking out in public somewhere, there are people who have survived these kinds of things that are around you that can hear what you’re saying. They hear how you’re standing up for survivors, or not. They hear how you’re talking about violence against women, or not. And so the more we can be supportive, the more we can safely intervene in those situations, do what we can to support people that are feeling afraid, the better the more we can help, the more people will feel safe to come forward and also get support.
The group also has a 24-hour crisis line for anyone that needs help – that phone number is 907-486-3625. More resources are also available at KWRCC’s website.
Editor’s note: The march was originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 22 when this story aired. It has since been rescheduled for Thursday due to weather.