Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, December 7, 1998

Domestic abuse: McLeod Alliance offers help


Last year, 17 women died due to domestic abuse from a partner or spouse in Minnesota.

Statistics estimate that an incident of domestic abuse occurs every 10 seconds.

These are just a few figures from the literature provided by the McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence. The scope of this problem is documented in its experience since the group's creation in 1993.

The alliance estimates that its crisis hotline gets about 30 calls a month. What worries them more, however, are the calls they don't get.

The alliance, which is a small office staffed by two full-time people and one part-timer, is constantly looking to attract more attention to the services they provide.

Often times, this is done through presentations to community groups or professionals.

Assistant Coordinator Barb Jaskowiak said, "We are always happy to do presentations because that's how we help people become aware of our organization."

Through presentations, clients in need are made aware of their options when they are ready to confront the fact that they are in an abusive relationship.

Although the alliance recently gave a presentation to the Council of Catholic Women in Winsted, and Lester Prairie has made donations available through its city coffers, Jaskowiak and her colleagues don't feel that this part of the county knows enough about their services.

Providing options

The organization, in a way, provides something to victims of domestic abuse which they may not have previously had: the right to make a choice.

When a client approaches them for the first time, the alliance begins by informing the individual of her options. Ninety-seven percent of these clients are women, although the number of men are on the increase.

First contact can be made through many channels, whether it is the 24-hour, volunteer crisis hotline where a real person always handles the calls, a referral from the police, or a visit from an individual who was at a presentation.

The alliance offers a sympathetic ear.

Coordinator Connie Schmoll said, "The first thing we do is sit down and believe them." This may be something the victim has been wanting.

After the details of the abusive relationship are shared, the alliance shows the victim the Power and Control Wheel.

The device outlines the tactics a batterer uses to control the victim and bridges the experience of the victim to the proper classification of her situation: domestic abuse.

Most importantly, the primary consideration is whether the individual is safe.

Domestic abuse works in cycles, spinning from flare-ups to honeymoon periods. When a victim calls, she could be anywhere in the cycle, but, according to Schmoll, the victim is well aware of where they are in that cycle.

The options for the client are many.

The alliance can help to create a safety plan for the victim. This can range from advice about what to do:

  • during a flare-up;
  • preparing to leave an abusive partner;
  • being safe when the batterer has moved out;
  • on the job considerations.

The advice, which is detailed in brochures includes tactics such as being aware of fast exits, having a safe place for children to go during a fight, providing code words to neighbors to call the police, or simply taking out a savings account in preparation to flee if necessary.

Sometimes, the advice may be to obtain an Order For Protection (OFP). The alliance is prepared to take clients through that court process if requested.

It also can provide safe havens in the form of safe houses or shelters. But mostly, staffers listen to what the client wants.

According to Jaskowiak, "We just listen to their (the victim's) stories and go through all their options that they have to keep them safe and let them make the decision."

The details of those choices are a guarded secret. Abusers often don't give up when a victim makes the choice to leave.

Schmoll and her colleagues recalled a women who spent the 10 years after leaving her abusive partner moving from place to place to prevent being found.

So Schmoll insists that confidentiality is key.

"If we tell the general population what their (a client's) options are, we are also telling abusers."

Patterns and profiles

According to alliance brochures, there are no specific demographics to domestic abuse except gender.

As for income level, alcohol or drug abuse (which only serve to aggravate the problem), race, or religion, domestic abuse does not discriminate.

Experience shows that such behavior is learned and abusers have often been abused or grew up in an abusive environment.

While cultural issues may not indicate likelihood of abuse, they can be a hurdle to getting help. Carmen Patino sees these issues as the staffer in charge of Hispanic Outreach.

Her role is to break down the simple language barriers for Spanish speaking people. This may include translating court documents or just making Hispanics aware of the alliance's services.

Often, culture plays a role in coming forward for help. Many of her clients will not come into the office, preferring to speak over the phone, meet in public, or in church.

Immigration can add to the concerns, and Patino admits that often times she is not the first person Hispanics will go to with this problem. Often, it is a clergy person or a family member who is sought out first.

In general, confidentiality is even a stronger issue for her clients, she said, "Because a lot of the Hispanics know everybody; it's a small knit community, and so they're are afraid of that, too."

The one pattern seen in the victims is intense lack of self-confidence with feeling of shame and fear.

Often, alliance staffers must build up confidence in a victim of abuse.

Schmoll pointed out that rebuilding self esteem and empowering clients is the main reason she and her colleagues do the work.

"I don't know that there's one person that we ever worked with who hasn't left the door somehow feeling better then when they first came in," she said.

Outreach to the community

The alliance, in times of crisis, can provide many necessities. It has shelves stocked with personal items if clients have to leave their situations in a hurry.

Economic assistance can also be provided at times, with the alliance relying on the help of area churches.

While a third of the alliance's funding comes from the Minnesota Center for Crime Victim Services, most comes from donations. Churches, civic organizations, businesses, and even cities have pitched in. Events, such as an upcoming bowl-a-thon in Hutchinson, are other sources.

Volunteers are sought to answer phones, assist in child care, transportation, or help in fundraising.

The alliance's wish list includes a number of needs. These include getting a van for transportation.

They'd also like to add services for victims of sexual assault, teenagers, and additional services for children who have witnessed abuse. Residences for emergencies are also being sought.

While some might consider the work draining, the staffers are dedicated to it. They are happy to see that some of their clients often return, with new confidence, to be volunteers.

The services of the Mcleod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence are free of charge.

The crisis number in Hutchinson is 320-234-7933, or toll-free 1-800-934-0851. Both lines are open 24-hours a day.

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