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A conversation with SAFE: what is domestic violence and how to access resources

Isabelle Ross/KDLG

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. KDLG talks with Gregg Marxmiller from SAFE, the women’s shelter in Dillingham. In this first segment, we break down what domestic violence is and some resources people can turn to.

Just so listeners know, this interview deals with topics surrounding domestic violence that some people may find difficult or upsetting.

Izzy Ross: Thank you so much for coming into the studio. Could you just go ahead and introduce yourself?

Gregg Marxmiller: Yeah, hi, my name is Gregg Marxmiller. I’m the education and outreach coordinator at SAFE here in Bristol Bay, and I really appreciate you guys having me in the studio today. So October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. So we’re trying to raise awareness about domestic violence and kind of talk a little bit about that and some of the issues around there.

What I wanted to say to begin with is that this may be a difficult subject for some listeners. That may be because of past or current events in their life. And sometimes it’s because this isn’t something that’s talked about. It’s new information to some people, and it takes a little time for us to kind of parse things. But I think that sometimes when we talk about difficult subjects, we have to recognize [the importance of talking about it.] You know, this may trigger memories of past abuse, or you may be realizing that you’re in an abusive relationship. You may even realize that you have abusive tendencies. For that I have to say: There is help. SAFE has advocates that can listen to you, that are there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our phone number is 842-2320. And if you don’t want to talk to someone here locally, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. You may have things that you want to talk to me personally about. I welcome that. If you have comments and feedback about what I said here, or things you want to add, or things you have questions about, you can email me at I firmly believe that everyone can have a healthy relationship with those they love. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to get there. So I welcome everybody to work and to have healthy relationships wherever you have relationships and however those work.

Ross: I’d like to start off asking some basic questions for people who are new to the subject or are new to thinking about the subject in a healing way. So what is domestic violence?

Marxmiller: Domestic violence, in a short answer, is a pattern of behavior used by one partner in a relationship to maintain power and control over another partner. What we traditionally think of as domestic violence is physical violence – when we see a black eye on somebody, or marks, or bruise marks – but that’s physical abuse. Domestic violence is not just that. It’s sometimes a whole pattern of abuse and not just physical abuse.

Ross: So that means there can be emotional abuse and physical abuse and it can all be kind of put under this umbrella?

Marxmiller: Yeah. So the umbrella of power and control over another person – so kind of holding somebody down – can be like that. Some of the types of abuse are physical abuse like you mentioned, like hitting, punching, intimidation, abandonment – dropping somebody off somewhere and leaving them to walk home, especially in bad weather. There’s emotional abuse, like gaslighting, isolating, intimidation of people and threatening pets and children. There’s sexual abuse, such as involving other people against somebody’s will, marital rape. Reproductive coercion, which is lying about contraceptive methods, sabotaging birth control. Financial abuse, which is maximizing credit cards in somebody’s name, withholding financial info, not allowing somebody to work. Digital abuse, such as using tracking technology without permission, constant texting, unwanted explicit photos. Those are all examples of those different types of abuse.

So domestic violence is a crime. The way that the state here looks at domestic violence and shelters such as SAFE is, we’re housed under the Department of Public Safety. We’re here to work on helping alleviate this criminal act in the State of Alaska, so to speak. And that’s kind of complicated, but we’re a response to this crime.

Ross: That’s a lot to take in – there’ so much there. [If] someone finds themselves in a situation like that, what is a first step someone can take towards addressing the situation?

Marxmiller: I think one of the most important things is to learn more, and that’s kind of what we’re doing. You can go to our website and learn more about what abuse is. The National Domestic Violence Hotline website has a lot of information about what abuse is. Their website is

There’s a really cool model that people use, and it’s called the Deluth Model, which talks about some of the patterns of control and power, and how that kind of works out in relationships. And there’s also another one that shows what healthy relationships look like. That model kind of shows things to look at. I also like a website, it’s more geared towards teen dating violence, but it’s called And they also have a hotline, and they have some cool quizzes that you can kind of go through, and kind of do a self-check, and say, ‘Hey, am I a healthy partner in a relationship?’ It’s kind of cool, because it’s not that judgmental. It talks about trying to build healthy relationships, but also build healthy ways of acting, and building up your partner. The idea here is that we treat each other in a way that builds each other up so we can be our best selves. I think that’s what everybody wants in this world – I mean, I’m speaking for myself, but I like my relationships to build me up and add something, and strengthen me, so I can be the best person I want to be. And I think that’s what we all want. We want to be loved, and we want to be cared for. And we want to care for other people and love other people. And sometimes we just need to figure out how. Sometimes we’ve gotten bad behaviors, and sometimes we try to control people, but that’s not how love works.

Ross: In a lot of the situations that you mentioned, it’s easy to think about them abstractly. But when you’re in a situation like that, it can be very difficult to get out, especially if maybe you’re not aware of the resources available, or if you just feel like you’re stuck. How do you work from that place?

Marxmiller: Another way of thinking about this – and I think this is something that a lot of people struggle with – is what if you see this in a friend? How do I help support a friend? When we think about what SAFE provides as advocacy, we first and foremost realize that every person is responsible and knows the best things that they can do for themselves. And sometimes the situation may not be safe enough for them to come to SAFE, or to call the police. And sometimes they know the best way of dealing with the situation, so we support people. And that’s a good thing for friends to do, too, is to let people know that you’re there, you care about them, you’re willing to help them out.

One thing that we don’t do, is we don’t take it upon ourselves to call the police. We don’t force an issue. That’s not helpful to people, and it could be lethal in a way. The idea is to support people, and when they’re ready get them safe. We do some things called safety planning, where we look at: What kind of documents do I have? Do I have my drivers license? Do I have my social security card? Do I have these documents in a safe place? Do I have enough cash to get somewhere? Do I have the phone numbers I need of who to call? What are my plans in case I need to leave really quickly? Where are my car keys, my kids’ information? That kind of stuff. We have some templates and can help you out with that type of thing. There’s also protective orders. Things like that are tools that we use to help people be safe. Then we have the shelter. It’s an amazing place where there’s support and people can kind of rebuild their lives.

Ross: When we were talking about what to talk about here, you mentioned that people often think about domestic violence as a women’s issue, or as an issue that largely affects women.

Marxmiller: I don’t think that domestic violence has ever been a women’s issue – solely a women’s issue. And I think as men we have a responsibility that we haven’t really taken up as much to help end domestic violence. I think it’s really important for us – any gender – to raise awareness, to say that that’s not OK, and to do what we can. And it may be uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me, still, you know? But to be brave, and to call people, if that’s necessary, to help support people, to find a way to not just be a bystander. ‘Cause it affects us when we can’t do something. I mean, I would say that domestic violence has probably affected everybody in this town, one way or another. We see the news reports, we see what happens. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, and I’ve faced this myself, sometimes I don’t know what to do. And that’s where we have a supportive community. You can call us, find out more information from those websites, and then figure out what works for you. I hope that everybody is able to do something. You don’t have to do everything, but we have to do something.

Ross: Thank you so much for taking some time to come in. We look forward to talking to you again.

Marxmiller: Thank you so much. I appreciate it, and I look forward to talking again as well.   

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.