Alaska has some of the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the country. But services for victims tend to be concentrated in larger towns and cities. In small communities like Haines, there is no designated shelter for abuse victims. The closest one is in Juneau. But one couple in Haines is working to change that.
Jackie and Stan Mazeikas have been working for more than two years to open a safe house in Haines called Becky’s Place. It’s named after someone Jackie lost about 30 years ago.
“I had a sister named Becky who I lost to domestic violence,” Jackie says. “And, I countless times wondered why she went back, why she didn’t tell us. Didn’t she know she had help and support?”
Jackie has worked to support people in abusive situations in Haines, Klukwan, Skagway and other rural towns for about five years. She’s a domestic violence and sexual assault health educator with Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC. (Her work with SEARHC is not connected to her efforts with Becky’s Place.) In her job, she kept seeing a devastating pattern:
“Many of the women that would come and see me, they would leave and go home and return to the abusive situation.”
State-affiliated domestic violence shelters in Southeast are located in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. If an abuse victim in Haines or another rural community needs a safe place to stay for a week or a month…
“What we do is we put them on the ferry — one-way [ticket] to the shelter,” Mazeikas said.
“Safety planning in rural areas looks a little different than it does here in Juneau,” said Mandy Cole, deputy director at AWARE.
AWARE has an emergency shelter, trained advocates and prevention services. They also do outreach to nine rural communities, including Haines and Skagway.
“Rural communities have different access to resources,” Cole said. “For example, if a woman walks in here to AWARE in Juneau, I can basically get her a protection order and get her to the court that day. And that’s not always the case with rural communities. It’s the same thing with law enforcement, same thing with safe homes and shelters.”
Cole says most of the rural communities they serve have unofficial safe houses where victims can go. Sometimes it’s a private home, sometimes a bed and breakfast will put someone up.
For Mazeikas, that sort of unofficial network doesn’t seem like enough. The more she worked with domestic violence survivors, the more she realized that not having a shelter in town was an obstacle for some people in leaving their abuser. They would say things like:
“‘I can’t pull my child out of school, it’s the only security they have. I can’t leave, my mom is here, my dad, I’m taking care of them. I can’t leave. Or maybe I have a part-time job it’s the only security I have. I can’t make it out in the real world,'” Mazeikas said.
A few years ago, it got to be too much.
“You know, your heart can only get so heavy and that’s the point I was at,” she said. “We have to do something. We have to do something, so what are our options?”
Since 2012, Jackie and Stan have been working to raise funds for Becky’s Place. They went through the long process of applying for non-profit status, and in fall of 2013, Becky’s Place became a certified 501(c)3 non-profit.
Mazeikas says people in Haines are gaining more awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault. She’s gathered statistics from a local counseling service to give a picture of problem.
“In 2011, they had seven domestic violence incidents reports,” Mazeikas said. “In 2012, we had 14. In 2011, for sexual assault clients who came in to see them, they had 72 clients. In 2012, for sexually assaulted clients, there was 86 clients that they saw. That’s some kind of indication that it does definitely exist here.”
So, now Becky’s Place is a registered non-profit. They’ve raised some money with community donations and grants. They even have furniture – bunk beds, a kitchen table.
The next step is to find a house to rent. Mazeikas says they have three options they’re exploring right now. She’s hopeful the doors for Becky’s Place will open this summer.
Mazeikas says her work is driven by her Christian faith and this goal:
“I want women to know that they don’t have to be another Becky.”
If Becky’s Place succeeds, it’ll be an example of how small communities can pool resources and strengthen their support systems for victims of abuse.