|Initiative:||Council on Domestic Violence|
|Organization:||North Slope Borough - Arctic Women in Crisis|
|Program Area:||Human Services \ Domestic violence|
Hoping for the day the shelter is no longer needed
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.
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.
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 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.