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A Healing Journey For Alaska Natives: Building Multidisciplinary Responses to Victims of Violence—Transcript

JOE MASTER, NATIVE VILLAGE OF UNALAKLEET, FORMER COMMISSIONER, ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: When I was a brand new trooper, I was assigned to Sand Point, and I fly into Perryville to understand and learn the communities that I'm going to have responsibility for. So I'm on the mail flight, and the pilot starts offloading freight, and one of the elders in the community says, "I just want to ask you, are you here to help us or are you here to save us?" Basically what he was saying is, there's enough people out there, external of our communities, that think they're going to come in and save us from ourselves, and we don't need that. The solutions to problems in the communities are going to start within the communities. What we need is somebody to come in and help us help ourselves.

STEPHANIE PATTISON, BSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P, RN SART COORDINATOR/EDUCATOR, MANIILAQ HEALTH CENTER: Kotzebue is a very close-knit community. We are 30 miles above the Arctic Circle, and during the summer you can go by boat to some of the other communities that we serve. But the only way to get in or out of Kotzebue is by plane.

MICHELLE, SIBERIAN YUP’IK/INUPIAK: Ducky! I've been living here for the last 10 years. The community is very friendly, and there's, like, a sense of belonging here, where, when somebody is in need, people come together to help a person. That's one of the things that I like about this town.

STEPHANIE PATTISON: Unfortunately the prevalence of sexual assault in our region is high, as it is throughout the whole state of Alaska. But I really feel that we are doing an excellent job here with caring for our sexual assault victims through our multidisciplinary team. Okay, everybody has signed the confidentiality statement? Our team consists of law enforcement, the Children's Advocacy Center, Family Crisis, and the prosecutor's office.

ERIC A. SWISHER, CHIEF OF POLICE, KOTZEBUE POLICE DEPARTMENT: We have a very close working relationship with the Alaska State Troopers, and not only them, but we also have a close working relationship with the nurses at th e Maniilaq Health Center and with our local prosecutor.

RACHEL AHRENS, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, STATE OF ALASKA: Until there was an MDT, there was a lot of frustration and confusion about, “Well, why aren't these cases prosecuted?" Or, "Why was he given this kind of a deal, or this kind of sentence?" And I think now we can meet every month and talk about the cases, I can tell them, "Unless I get X, Y, and Z, I'm not going to be able to prosecute it."

ASHLEY STICKMAN, NATIVE VILLAGE OF KOTZEBUE, MANAGER, MANIILAQ FAMILY CRISIS CENTER: Growing up and seeing domestic violence, I didn't want that for myself or my children. I started off as a victim advocate in 2011, and now I'm the manager of the shelter. We've been working together for a while and we know our roles within our team. And it helps us to run more effective, providing justice and service for the victim. Everything we do with our victims is confidential. Any conversation between us in a private setting is strictly between us and the client, therefore none of it can shared.

ERIC SWISHER: We understand that there's going to be differences in priorities throughout the team, but as the team gets together and talks about what their individual priorities are, it's easier for us as a group, then, to understand, priority number one would be the victim, make sure they're safe; priority number two is complete, thorough investigations; priority three would be getting the prosecution.

RACHEL AHRENS: The jurisdiction for our office covers Kotzebue, the 10 villages surrounding Kotzebue, and then it also includes Point Hope, Alaska, and Point Hope is part of the North Slope Borough.

ASHLEY STICKMAN: The big challenge for a lot of rural Alaska is getting the people to trust law enforcement and to let them know that they're really there for their safety. So people need to know that, you know, we trust them, and these are reasons why we trust them, and this is the reasons why you can trust them.

RACHEL AHRENS: The subsistence lifestyle makes this a very unique setting. The men are typically the hunters. And I think that in all of their minds, if they call and report a domestic violence situation, they know that the person will be arrested, and then they won't have anyone to hunt. And that means there's no food on their table, depending on what happens.

SGT. MICHAEL HENRY, MAT-SU MAJOR CRIMES UNIT, ALASKA STATE TROOPERS: Very often in remote places of Alaska, what some people call bush Alaska, a sexual assault case will get reported of third party, because very often a victim reports to someone that they trust first, and then that report makes its way to law enforcement. And lots of times they get reported through Village Public Safety Officers, or the VPO, the Village Police Officer.

CAPT. ANDREW T. MERRILL, VPSO PROGRAM COMMANDER, ALASKA STATE TROOPERS: In the case where there's been injuries to a victim, they'll contact the local health corporation, and that health corporation will send a medevac, and that medevac will send emergency personnel to that location and transport the individual to the nearest facility that's most adequate.

SGT. ERIC OLSEN, VILLAGE OF AFOGNAK, ALASKA STATE TROOPER – KODIAK: As the supervisor for Alaska State Troopers, my duty is to make sure that my troopers respond to the villages, take care of them just as we would as anybody on the road system.

TERRA ABBOTT, NOME ESKIMO COMMUNITY, RN, ACUTE CARE UNIT, NORTON SOUND HEALTH CORPORATION: A lot of our patients get flown in from the villages. This might be their first time out of the village, and them seeing another person they've never met before is very intimidating. And it might take a while for them to get comfortable just talking to you. I give them a medical forensic exam and I prophylactically treat them for pregnancy and STIs.

BARBARA CROMWELL, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P, SANE/SART COORDINATOR, NORTON SOUND HEALTH CORPORATION: When you're working with a sexual assault, you are working with a live victim who not only has physical needs and medical needs, but they have emotional needs, too. I think what a SANE does is very important because a SANE sees the victim as a patient first.

TERRA ABBOTT: I usually have a patient advocate come in who hooks them up with the right resources, whether they need a shelter, clothes, food, any counseling. Usually I can refer them over to our behavior health system.

PENNY LAMPL, SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE TEAM COORDINATOR, COMMUNITY RESPONSE TEAM COORDINATOR, KODIAK WOMEN’S RESOURCE AND CRISIS CENTER: Shelly is a client of ours from one of the villages, and she had a very horrible experience and was beat up very badly.

SHELLY, YUP’IK: I was held down with—by my arms, and legs, and mouth, and nose, and I am just lucky I got out of there.

PENNY LAMPL: I'm really glad that you're okay. When Shelly came to the shelter, it was reported, and the state troopers did respond to the assault.

SGT. ERIC OLSEN: The MDT team here in Kodiak is exceptional. From the time that it's called in, we take immediate action on it, once we make sure to ensure the safety of the victim and get the proper resources allocated to her.

SHELLY: Some days I feel safe because I feel like nothing will happen, and some days I don't because I feel like something will happen. And I get paranoid.

PENNY LAMPL: We were able to assist her with getting restraining orders out on all three assailants, so that they could not come near her, nor could they go near her grandmother or her child. And is he, like, average build or. . .

SHELLY: People here at Women's Resource and at KANA Medical, but mostly here, I would talk because it felt more comfortable. And it helped a lot to get the stress and emotional out.

RACHEL AHRENS: The tribal nonprofits are essential in helping provide the services to the victims, because there's no other real entity here that provides that service.

PENNY LAMPL: Do you have school supplies? There are many tribes, but there are no tribal boundaries, and so when the tribes went through ANCSA, nonprofit and for-profit corporations formed in order to help cover the services that they would need. And in our region, Maniilaq is the nonprofit association.

MICHELLE: When the sexual assault occurred, they wanted to send me to Anchorage for an exam. I refused to go. I kind of left against medical advice from the ER and I came home. I went home. And I . . . I just, you know, for a while I tried not to think about it.

ASHLEY STICKMAN: We have a very high lack of reporting due to the embarrassment throughout their communities that they live in and retaliation by their tribal members within their villages as well.

MICHELLE: It was very difficult for me to walk out my door, still, at that time, and I developed severe anxiety. I would have a hard time breathing, and I felt like I was dying. There was so many times that I ended up in the ER because of an anxiety attack.

ASHLEY STICKMAN: So even if you're having just a hard time, and even if you can't talk but you just need somebody on the other end of the line, or you need to come in and just even sit in the presence of somebody, you are more than welcome to do that. You just give us a call anytime and we'll be there to help you. Alaska Native women, which is our majority of victims and clients that we serve, we try to provide them with the traditional ways to help them heal themselves, to reconnect with who they are as a woman, as a tribal member, and as a woman in society.

MICHELLE: I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to. I want to live. I want to be happy. And . . . You know, it's . . . It takes a lot out of somebody that survived something as terrible as, you know, a sexual assault. Spirituality is really important because I found a lot of comfort and strength in that. I started berry picking. After recovering from alcoholism and after a time being sober, I found myself interested in wanting to do new things, wanting to learn our way of life, and berry picking is one of them.

TERRA ABBOTT: I believe all of us have to come together to conquer this issue, that it's not going to just be me and a few other Native people. It's going to take many.

SGT. ERIC OLSEN: We work hand in hand, whether the MDT is here in Kodiak, or up in the Arctic, up in Kotzebue, or southeast Alaska, we are all going to do the same thing. And that's the beauty of the MDT. We all have the same background and knowledge of procedures and steps in order to take care of a victim. We are able to understand what needs, resources, and allocations need to be made. And bottom line, it's a team approach.

TERRA ABBOTT: I think we've built a really strong team. I just want to see what we can do with this team and see us just grow together, and really put justice to some of these cases that need it.