Behind Closed Doors Part III: Finding hope to escape domestic violence

Advocacy services work to combat, prevent domestic violence Domestic violence and abuse are difficult problems to solve, but there is hope.

Before or after law enforcement steps in, a variety of advocacy services are available to help victims break free of domestic violence, whether their needs are physical, emotional, financial, legal or otherwise.

Burnsville-based 360 Communities has operated Lewis House shelters for women and children who have been victims of domestic violence since 1979.

The shelters have helped more than 65,000 survivors over that time. More than 2,500 women and children are supported annually at the sites in Eagan and Hastings – that’s nearly seven victims per day.

“Once you start seeing those red flags, you should call an advocate,” Ann Sheridan, director of violence prevention for 360 Communities, said of 360’s trained volunteers and professionals who have prevented countless cases where violence would have escalated without intervention.

Among the first steps is finding housing. Lewis House offers temporary housing for victims and advocates who help give them a safe and affordable place to live.

They also help coordinate retrieval of belongings or going back to their home.

While food shelf services are offered, 360 Communities also tends to the emotional side. Support groups meet regularly for both women and children who have been victims of abuse.

“It can happen to anyone, but it doesn’t have to,” she said. “I think people don’t want to believe it. There are a lot of abusive people out there.”

The nonprofit is equipped to intervene and support families and victims by obtaining an order for protection, navigating the court system, setting up medical examinations, sorting out employment options and much more.

360 Communities trains advocates to help sexual assault survivors and provides support and services to family members and friends of sexual assault victims.

They partner with schools, faith communities, service organizations and businesses to raise awareness about teen dating violence, bullying, date or acquaintance rape, sexual assault and harassment, and the effects and prevalence of domestic violence.

Advocates teach students about peacemaking and conflict resolution, help them develop skills that stop violence before it starts and talk to boys about valuing and respecting women and girls.

First steps

Partnerships between law enforcement and domestic violence advocacy agencies provide a holistic approach for helping victims, according to Monique Drier, a Twin Cities police department’s community liaison.

Drier said a holistic approach in domestic violence cases can include visits by law enforcement to a victim’s home to determine the severity of the situation and reviews of the needs of both the victim and the offender, Drier said.

While offenders face legal consequences for their actions, they need help to not repeat those actions in the future.

“If it’s not a holistic approach, it’s like sending someone to treatment with no help,” Drier said.

Nancy Halverson, Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections supervisor, said offenders must complete domestic violence counseling based on the level of crime they commit.

“We find if offenders complete their domestic violence counseling, they are statistically less likely to re-offend,” Halverson said.

Project P.E.A.C.E. domestic violence advocate Tracy Becker said there is in an increase in the number of orders for protection filed by people with the help of advocates this year. The number of homicides related to domestic violence this year, 37, is one reason more people are requesting orders for protection, Becker said.

“People are taking that extra step to make sure that they are safe,” she said.

Always on-call

Day One Minnesota Domestic Violence Crisis Line, a statewide program of Bloomington-based Cornerstone Advocacy Service, provides a 24-hour help source.

The Day One organization was founded in 1995, inspired by the stories told by survivors of domestic violence who reported making between eight to 15 phone calls to reach safety. The crisis line – developed through a partnership between Allina Health System Foundation, the Twin Cities United Way and Minnesota battered women’s shelters – connects callers directly to their local advocacy service by using the caller’s area code.

“There are a lot of other programs that have a hotline that connects to advocacy services, but not one that connects them directly,” Day One manager Colleen Schmitt said.

If the victims are seeking shelter, advocates can use the Day One website to check for beds available at shelters in real time. This ensures victims get to a safe place as soon as possible and are connected to the resources they need immediately.

“So victims only have to talk to one person who can provide the resources they need,” Schmitt said. “There’s no middle man. The advocacy service can then place a three-way call to an advocate at the shelter to reserve a space.”

Since its inception, Day One has expanded its network to include nearly 60 domestic violence and sexual assault programs throughout the Minnesota area. Opening the Door, an initiative of Day One, improves access to services for variety of cultures, including immigrants and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The organization has also recently been working to reach those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Day One also oversees the Minnesota Alliance for Family and Animal Safety. The alliance aims to reach victims of domestic abuse who are 50 and older and provide shelter for abused animals.

“We get about 12,000 calls a year, and 2,000 are about finding shelter,” Schmitt said. “The rest are about getting help. Every time, they’re reaching out.”

The Day One crisis number is 866-223-1111.

Preventing violence

Domestic violence profoundly affects not only the lives of the victim and the perpetrator but also the children who have witnessed the abuse and have been victims. According to Cornerstone, children who have witnessed abuse learn that to get what they want, violence works.

The advocacy service works toward ending generational cycles of violence and abuse by teaching children about appropriate, healthy relationship skills through Preventing Abuse and Violence through Education.

“For domestic violence especially, we want to make sure they understand power and if they’re using it to hurt someone,” said Barton Erickson, a school-based prevention coordinator. “Also recognizing the use of gender or feminine terms is key.”

PAVE is in 17 schools in the Cornerstone service area. PAVE educators start in elementary schools to educate young children on family violence, self-esteem and healthy communication.

In junior high, PAVE educators focus on age-related issues around family abuse and violence in the schools. Educators not only focus on classroom presentations but work with students, both individually and in group settings, on family abuse issues, healthy relationships, anger management, communication skills at home and in school, bullying and harassment.

In high school, PAVE educators focus on dating abuse and violence in the home, peer relationships and violence prevention in school.

“For their first relationship ever, learning what’s healthy is really important,” Erickson said.

Fairview Hospitals is a referral for more extreme cases, typically when significant mental health or substance abuse problems arise.

Domestic violence between parents or relatives is commonly at the root of a student’s behavior problems, especially relationship issues, and PAVE educators are prepared to contact child protection services.

“Growing up is an extremely confusing place to be when parents both love and hurt each other,” Erickson said.

PAVE educators aim to reach students through a variety of platforms of new media and technology. Erickson said their ultimate goal is to make things relevant and tangible and to make change.

Say something

As a bystander, domestic violence can be difficult to ascertain.

There are many signs and red flags. The biggest sign is controlling and manipulative behavior, according to Jamie Olson, the domestic violence prevention coordinator at a Twin Cities police department.

“Abusers use power and control over victims, which does not limit itself to physical control,” she said. “It’s getting children involved, physical, emotional and financial. Every abuser uses different tools to put power and control over the victim.”

Once signs of domestic violence have been observed involving family or friends, the most important thing is to be non-judgemental, according to Bob Olson at Cornerstone.

“Take the time to educate yourself about the dynamics of domestic violence,” he said. “It’s OK to approach them and ask if they’re OK.”

Friends or loved ones of a victim or someone they think may need help are also encouraged to contact their local advocacy service or, more importantly, the police.

“If you see or hear something, call the police,” Becker said. “It’s surprising to me how many people will hear domestic violence happen but not say something or call the police. If you hear abuse occur … call 911.”

Neighbors or family members of a person who they know or think is being abused can call 360’s confidential line at 952-985-5300.

Until provisions are taken or a safety plan is drafted, it may actually be safer for victims to stay in the relationship.

“When they leave is the most dangerous time,” Schmitt said. “We can work with them prior to leaving, develop safety plans on how to continue and take control.”

Picking up the phone and asking for help is the first step – and it is not an easy one.

“It takes a lot of courage to pick up the phone and make that call,” Schmitt said. “It really is a process. They just need to know there is help in the community.”

Domestic violence simply isn’t like other crimes, Jamie Olson said.

“If someone steals your purse or robs you or burglarizes your home, you have no issues pursuing charges or cooperating with police, but when the person that assaults you is a spouse, a child, a parent, it’s someone you share a relationship with, and it’s not stranger,” she said. “It’s important to understand that situation the victim is in. It’s a crime with a personal relationship attached to it.”

Community editors Tad Johnson, Paul Groessel, Matt Hankey and Katy Zillmer also contributed to this article.

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