Activists seek end to domestic violence

At the March 27 rally, candles were lit and roses placed to remember each of the 12 people murdered due to domestic violence in Minnesota in 2018.

“Domestic violence has an impact on everyone,” said Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter as she thanked a domestic violence survivor from Chisago County for sharing her story and putting a real face to the problem. “We are not alone in our efforts to end domestic violence.”

Reiter was speaking at the rally organized by Family Pathways for the Minnesota Coalition For Battered Women statewide day of action – “Minnesota Leads the Way in Taking Action to End Domestic Violence.” The rally took place at the Chisago County Government Center March 27.

The survivor who shared her story made it clear that it was the efforts of many people and organizations working in collaboration that assisted her in finding safety for her family and herself.

From the outside, it looked like her home life was great. The family was active in church and the children were home-schooled. Her husband had a great job and volunteered in the community.

However, at home, the family was suffering psychological abuse, the survivor said, noting that more than half of all men and women experience psychological violence from an intimate partner.

Her husband was mean and angry at home, but she thought that if he was not hitting her, it was not abuse. Not only was her husband full of rage and anger at home, but he spoke of “evil” outside the home and controlled everything his family bought and where they went.

Nobody else knew about the abuse that was taking place inside the family’s home. However, it was having a severely negative affect on the children. Finally, in January of 2018, the survivor decided she needed to do something for her and the sake of her children, and calmly asked her husband to go spend a few days at his parents’ home.

Outraged, he told her of the bloodbath that was going to take place in their home.

She finally got the courage to leave with the children and go stay with family. She sent an email asking him to leave the house, and he did so she could return home with the children.

Soon he started calling and sending messages, apologizing for his behavior and saying things would be better. However, she had started telling people what was happening insider her home, finally going to the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office a few months later and speaking to a deputy. The deputy confirmed her fears of being in danger, urging her to seek a protective order at the courthouse, and also referring her to advocates at The Refuge Network, a program of Family Pathways.

From there, she filed for a protective order against her husband, and found support through domestic violence survivors’ support groups. Advocates and deputies escorted her to and from the courthouse to ensure her safety while going to court for the protective order. She was also connected to resources that assisted her family with food and Christmas gifts.

“The love and dedication given to us absolutely is what helped us stay strong,” the survivor said of the network of people helping her stay safe and empowering her to be strong.

The survivor said that life as a single mom is crazy busy with the activities her children are in, as well as the therapy sessions and support groups, school, and her new career, but they are safe.

“Never be afraid to reach out for help, there are people who love you and want you to be free of domestic violence,” she said.

Domestic violence statistics for 2018

In 2018, 12 people were murdered in domestic violence incidents in Minnesota, Reiter noted. Six people have been murdered in domestic violence incidents in Minnesota in the first three months of 2019, she added.

Throughout Minnesota there are 90 agencies that support approximately 55,000 victim/survivors of domestic violence each year. “Collaborative efforts between domestic violence programs and other agencies help to increase the safety of survivors,” Reiter said.

Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad stated that Minnesota led the way for domestic violence programming, with the first domestic violence shelters and organizations to assist victim/survivors.

It has continued to lead the way with innovative programming and collaborative efforts between nonprofit organizations, law enforcement, and social service agencies.

“The services of domestic violence and sexual assault programs is critical to public safety and the safety of survivors,” Edblad said, noting survivors deserve to be heard.

He added that energy and resources need to be committed to ending domestic and sexual violence, which are happening at alarming rates, as well as providing seamless, accessible systems to promote safety and justice for victim/survivors. Efforts also need to be made to work with perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence to transform there abusive behaviors and prevent them from harming anyone else.

Edblad thanked the victim service coordinators in the county attorneys’ offices. “They will always have my respect and appreciation,” he said, noting they assist victim/survivors by providing answers and connecting them to resources.

There were 900 crime victims in Chisago County in 2018, and 90 of those victims were related to domestic violence.

Brenda Skogman shared statistics for Pine and Isanti counties. There 144 domestic violence cases in Pine County, 26 of which charges were declined and 61 which were currently making their way through the court system.

Isanti County had 537 victims of crime in 2018, 119 of which were related to domestic violence.

Cheryl Terhaar, victim services coordinator for Kanabec County, said there were 901 crime victims in 2018, and 213 were related to domestic violence. There were no domectic violence homicides in Kanabec County in 2018.

“With services like community advocacy, court support, the shelter, batterers intervention program, as well as numerous support groups, we will not stop until domestic violence is a thing of the past,” said Family Pathways Men’s Program Manager Dustin Anderson.

He shared that 447 new victim/survivors were assisted by Family Pathways in Isanti County in 2018; 650 were assisted in Chisago County; 429 in Kanabec County; and, 88 in Pine County. The total number of new victim/survivors assisted by Family Pathways in 2018 was 2,063.

Anderson also shared that 60 men graduated from Family Pathways batterers’ intervention program with a 10 percent recidivism rate, noting that rate is at least 30 percent under the national average for recidivism after graduating from the program.

Take action to fund domestic violence prevention programming

“Statistics cannot capture the whole impact of violence,” said Kanabec County Sheriff Brian Smith. “These numbers reflect people just like you and I. They are our family members, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors. They are people we love or people we don’t know, but may say ‘Hi’ to at the gas station or grocery store.”

He added that the women’s movement has been working for more than 30 years to keep women, children, and men safe from domestic violence.

“The importance of domestic abuse transformation programming is to illustrate to offenders there are alternatives to their behavior by cognitive skills building, role play, activities, and in-depth discussion that can craft a bridge to a better tomorrow that is free from domestic violence and the overwhelming stress that can buildup in their lives,” Smith said.

Smith encouraged those in attendance to take action to ask their legislators to support two key pieces of legislation – HF464 in the house and SF1683 In the Senate. These bills would provide funding for domestic violence transformation programming and prevention. Smith noted batterers’ intervention programs have never been funded by the State Legislature in Minnesota.

“Not only do we want to help stop perpetrators from committing acts of violence against their loved ones, we also want to stop the violence before the first victim,” Smith said. “To do that, we must get upstream; we must invest in prevention resources.”

Chisago County Sheriff Brandon Thyen spoke before the rose ceremony to remember the 12 victims, family members, and friends known to be murdered in Minnesota due to domestic violence in 2018, noting that the Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women attempts to keep track of that information.

He noted that the method relies on monitoring news accounts of homicides in Minnesota, meaning one can never be certain all domestic violence related murders in Minnesota are included. Smith added that women of color, native women, poor women, LGBTQ folk (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning), and those involved in sex or human trafficking are under-reported.

Following the rose ceremony, Pastor Sarah Kerks of Zion Lutheran Church in Chisago City offered a moment of silence and a prayer for the 12 people murdered in Minnesota due to domestic violence, and then Family Pathways Chief Executive Officer Lisa Mears again encouraged those in attendance to take action.

“I personally want to thank all of you who commit to professional and personal energy to this work,” she said. “It is frightening, it is exhausting, it is tiring, and I honor and applaud you.”

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