A map of Alaska with the Arctic Slope region highlighted.
Initiative: Council on Domestic Violence
Organization: North Slope Borough - Arctic Women in Crisis
City: Barrow
Region: Arctic Slope
Program Area: Human Services \ Domestic violence
Grants Received:
2005: $22,653
2002: $52,200

Hoping for the day the shelter is no longer needed

Mission Statement
North Slope Borough —
Arctic Women in Crisis

To provide safe shelter and support services for women and children who have been subjected to domestic violence and/or sexual assault and to effect the social, political, and legal changes needed to eliminate oppression and violence against women and children.
I was part of a group of women who started a safe house program for abused women in Barrow in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, Barrow being so small meant that in no time at all everyone knew where the safe houses were. But the cops kept an eye on our homes when we had someone staying with us and we all had strong locks.

Still, I find it hard to forget the man who used to sit on the railing of the playground across from my house where his girlfriend was hiding. He didn't do anything. Just sat there in the frigid Arctic winter and stared. He stopped me in the local store once to tell me that I needed to understand that women just looked better if they had a black eye. A photo of a poem board in the shelter.Spacer Image
Growing up Italian in New Jersey in the 50s, I never knew domestic violence existed. Ricky and Lucy, Rob and Laura, even Ralph and Alice…no one on TV ever hit anyone unless it was the good guy beating the bad guy.

I went to Barrow in the early 1970's as a nurse in the Indian Health Service Hospital. I was working the night shift when a local cop brought in his wife. He had beaten her so severely you could hardly make out her facial features because of the swelling. Before he left, he took off his shirt splattered with her blood and tossed it at her. He was due to go on duty in a few hours and wanted to be sure she got the shirt washed and the blood out so he could wear it to work.

Up till then I thought the Inupiat families I met greatly reminded me of my own Italian relatives. There was the same sense of closeness, the unspoken knowledge that they came above all else and the same emphasis on food as the universal glue that held us all together. Now I had to wonder.

A photo of shelter building in Barrow.Spacer Image A few years later, I was walking through the hospital when a woman lying across some chairs outside the emergency room tried to say hello to me. Her face was so badly beaten that I could barely understand what she said. I had no idea who she was.

In the waiting room, a young girl sat on the floor coloring. I knew this kid. I knew her mom. We'd been related for a while through my marriage into a local family. I had played with her, tossing a ball, listening to her laughter. I stopped to greet her. She asked me how her mom was. I said I didn't know. I hadn't seen her but I'd go find out. It wasn't till I picked up the chart next to the beaten woman that I realized this was Mom.

I stood there in shock. I knew this Dad. Sober he was nice. Drunk apparently he wasn't. I had a lot of trouble reconciling those two images. It would not be the last time that problem arose during the thirty years I lived there.

Barrow winters are cold and dark. Warmth is found in the people there who make you part of their family, a natural extension of the Inupiat value of sharing. The beatings of both children and women tested that warmth and, during the height of the pipeline boom when money, drugs and alcohol poured into town, strained it beyond anything imaginable. It forced some things out of the family circle and into the public domain.

People in Barrow talk about domestic violence now instead of making it the family's dirty little secret. And Barrow has a shelter where women and children can be safe. Those are good things.

Best of all will be the day the shelter stands empty because it isn't needed.

Elise Patkotak of Anchorage spent 27 years living in Barrow. She has been a GAL, Court Visitor and Child Custody Investigator with the Second Judicial District in Barrow since the mid 1980s. She is also a regular columnist with the Voice of the Times in the Anchorage Daily News and owns a writing service, Precious Cargo, Ltd. She lives with her aging dog, Mr. T, two parrots, a cockatoo and three foster parrots. Her home is very noisy.