Legislation would better support family violence survivors, say Alaska advocacy groups

Shishmaref, Alaska. Victims of family violence in rural Alaska often have obstacles accessing support and services. (Jae C. Hong/AP via The Canadian Press)

Legislation introduced in the U.S. to better support survivors of domestic violence could significantly help Alaskans, especially Indigenous women and those living in rural communities, say advocacy groups. 

“This legislation will allow many organizations and individuals to continue the impactful work happening throughout our nation to create safe communities for all,” Brenda Stanfill, the executive director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said in a statement. 

“It will also add to the ability of tribal governments to create safety within tribal communities, will create specialized resource centers, and will increase the funds available for families impacted by acts of violence and abuse within their families.”

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski (R), and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) who represents Pennsylvania, to improve on the 1984  Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA).

Through the act, services are provided to survivors of family violence  such as emergency shelters, counselling, and safety and financial planning. Grants are also provided to domestic violence programs, shelters, coalitions and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act of 2023 introduced this week would expand victim services and raises the authorized funding amount to $270 million.

More funding, more services

It also includes measures tailored for Indigenous groups and communities.

Indigenous-specific provisions in legislation
  • Empowering Indigenous Communities: Provides a larger role for Indigenous peoples in addressing domestic violence within their communities.
  • Funding Authorization: Authorizes funding for tribal coalitions and the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center.
  • Enhanced Hotline Support: Improves and modernizes the National Domestic Violence Hotline and helpline support for Indigenous people. Recognizes culturally-specific needs and jurisdictional issues faced by Indigenous individuals in situations of family violence.

“Culturally-specific organizations are better equipped to address the complex, multi-layered challenges facing victims from racial and ethnic minority populations as they seek services and protections
from abuse,” the legislation says.

“In addition, culturally- specific programs often have challenges accessing FVPSA funding at the state and local levels due to the limited funding available. This bill authorizes a new culturally-specific program to address these needs and incorporates related funding into the formula itself.”

Step towards reconciliation for Indigenous women in Alaska, says advocacy org

Tami Truett Jerue, the executive director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, said the recognition of Indigenous women’s particular challenges, especially in places like Alaska, was an important step.

“Among other Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Women suffer the highest rates of domestic and sexual violence in the country,” she said.

“FVPSA is the only federal grant program dedicated to supporting immediate shelter and supportive services for survivors of family violence, domestic violence, or dating violence, and the reauthorization of FVPSA, with permanent funding to support a dedicated Alaska Native Resource Center, is critical to support healing and reconciliation for our Alaska Native women and children.”

“Too many Alaskans in rural communities face obstacles to receiving help—including being hundreds of miles away from the nearest shelter,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), pictured here in a file photo. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Murkowski said the legislation would play an important role in redressing the barriers faced by domestic violence survivors in rural Alaska.

“This bill would work to increase access to services like crisis counseling, emergency shelters, and support prevention efforts,” she said.

“We must continue to improve access to support services for victims and their children and build on efforts to improve the safety of Alaska’s communities.” 

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Women in Northern Canada travel farthest to access domestic violence shelters, CBC News

Finland: Swedish-speaking Finnish women launch their own #metoo campaign, Yle News

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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