In 2012, The Alaska Governor's Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault - a division of the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety began a search for an evidence based primary prevention strategy in hopes of beginning to combat Alaska's alarming rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. This came on the heels of the release of the first of it's kind victimization survey conducted by the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research which found that nearly 60% of Alaskan women had experienced sexual or domestic violence in their lifetime. This victimization survey demonstrated what advocates like myself had long known anecdotally - Alaska's rates of violence had reached epidemic proportions. We were a state in crisis.
A director from a rural domestic violence program had attended a Green Dot training in Kentucky and felt connected to the powerful simplicity of the program. She brought information back to the Governor's Council who then invited Dr. Edwards to come to Alaska to meet with a group of stakeholders involved in finding solutions to our growing epidemic. The group was impressed with not only the core components of the program, but with the passion and hopefulness conveyed by Dr. Edwards. More importantly still, the group was impressed with the growing base of research demonstrating the program's effectiveness at measurably reducing victimization and perpetration. It was in these early conversations with stakeholders that it was decided that a comprehensive statewide approach to implementation must be adopted to combat the current levels of violence. The Governor's Council decided to fund a statewide implementation of Green Dot in five communities that would be selected through an RFP process where communities would be asked to demonstrate an existing capacity for prevention. Indicators of existing capacity included existence of a diverse coalition focused on violence prevention as well as community buy-in in the form of a modest in-kind or financial match for the state support.
I gathered together the violence prevention coalition in Anchorage - consisting of victim advocacy, law enforcement, faith based communities, tribal organizations, non-profits and general community members and I pitched the idea of applying for state support to adapt and implement Green Dot in Anchorage. The coalition enthusiastically agreed and several core organizations began to gather cash and in-kind support to supplement the grant should it be received. The Governor's Council ultimately selected Anchorage for implementation along with a range of urban and rural settings including Prince of Wales Island, Bethel, Kenai, and Homer. Representing a broad cross section of the state geographically and culturally the communities began to work toward adapting and implementing the program. By funding a statewide implementation, the Governor's Council made a strategically important decision - they demonstrated commitment to the strategy and a desire to build brand recognition across the entire state. They also set up communities for success by ensuring both readiness for prevention and community investment was present in selected communities.
After 14 years of work to intervene and prevent violence in Anchorage, working on the Green Dot implementation was like a breath of fresh air. The components of the program, including the assumptions discussed earlier by Dr. Edwards began to shift our thinking, rejuvenate the relationships in our community and reconnect us to our hope for a violence free community. Green Dot allowed us to give up past arguments and blame and release old and ineffective beliefs and strategies. It also required us to figure out what important groups were missing entirely from the conversation. One key group that Anchorage discovered needed to be re-invited to the violence prevention conversation was the business community.
Perhaps the single greatest success of Green Dot in Anchorage has been due to the engagement of seemingly non-traditional allies in the prevention of violence. We have successfully worked with bar and restaurant owners, cab companies, tribal organizations, real estate and insurance agencies, human resources professional groups and local government offices among others. By approaching business owners as allies and offering them simple and effective strategies to make their employees and customers safer, we have greatly deepened the bench of community members actively engaged in violence prevention. Our initial launch of the program focused on training downtown bar and restaurant owners and staff. We attended staff meetings to deliver training where possible and adapted our messaging to help bar staff cue into early warning signs of potential domestic or sexual violence in co-workers or patrons. We offered lots of suggestions for safe interventions and stressed creating a culture where intervention was the expected norm. We witnessed in these meetings an important dialogue open up between owners, managers and staff.
The dialogue often turned from a focus on the safety of customers to a focus on the safety and well being of staff. When discussing early warning signs of violence, bar and restaurant groups often shared examples where the violent or potentially violent behaviors were happening to staff. Examples ranged from intoxicated patrons violating physical boundaries of servers to discussions of bar cultures that accepted or even encouraged some levels of harassment of staff by customers all in the spirit of keeping the party atmosphere going and the drinks and tips flowing. These discussion lead to a realization that many businesses had weak or non-existing policies addressing violence in the workplace - managers often had little training in how to respond to potential victims or abusers on job sites or in how to deal with harassment in the workplace. One way that many of these businesses began to engage in "proactive Green Dots" was by writing policies covering these issues with the help of my agency. They also began to think from the business perspective about how they could make new cultural norms around violence apparent to their staff and customers. ? Green Dot has a goal of creating two norms. 1) Violence is not tolerated and 2) Everyone is expected to do their part. These norms are very supportive of a safe and healthy work environment and they generalize easily to many other areas beyond sexual and domestic violence prevention. The bars we worked with began to communicate these norms explicitly through hosting trainings, developing policies, changing out signs and bulletin boards to include relevant messaging and engaging in a host of creative ideas such as Green Dot trivia, contests and competitions. The issue went from one rarely talked about to one that was on the forefront and where positive norms were being reinforced in a variety of ways.
The work of individual businesses was reinforced by the visible community and statewide work to implement the program. Our coalition actively sought opportunities to share Green Dot messaging with local news stations and grew our online social media presence. In the first year we launched, we trained over 2,000 individuals and engaged with more than 75 businesses. In my tenure in this field, I had never seen momentum for a strategy grow this quickly or be embraced so fully by my community. We soon had to host additional trainings for new instructors as the demand began to out pace our ability to respond to requests. Businesses remain eager to become part of the Green Dot community - particularly as they see the benefits of the positive cause marketing offered by being associated with the brand. We now have an annual Green Dot award ceremony where the community can nominate businesses and individuals that contribute to a safer Anchorage. These awards and other public events have offered businesses an opportunity to be featured on the news for their contributions, serving to both spread the norms to the broader community as well as provide cause marketing to the business. I've included links to several of the news stories in my written testimony as I think they demonstrate the incredible momentum of the program.
Although we haven't had the capacity to formally evaluate the project, it is clear that positive changes are being made in my community. Through post surveys with training attendees and continued dialogues with businesses, we know that bystanders are more equipped to act and that we are creating a community where everyone feels responsible to do their part. The most recent addition to our Green Dot community is the Mayor of Anchorage. His first day of office was July 1st and leading up to his inauguration he formed a series of transition teams. His transition team on business and resource development included several business leaders who had been exposed to Green Dot through our work. Many of them expressed to the mayor the important impacts the program had had on their businesses and on the community as a whole. As a result of these discussions, during his first week in office the mayor and his top cabinet members attended a Green Dot training. The next week, the mayor announced he would be requiring all municipal employees and contractors to attend a Green Dot training. There are currently over 3,000 municipal employees. The Director of Health and Human Services has been tasked with working with us to complete the training and to analyze municipal polices addressing violence.
The brand of "violence prevention" in Anchorage has shifted from one that people shy away from to one that people are eager to be associated with. These gains will have impacts for years to come as we continue to mobilize individuals and organizations in ending all forms of violence.