Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 19, 2004

One in four women are affected by domestic abuse

By Starrla Mathews

Domestic violence seems to touch every community – and in 2003, McLeod County law enforcement received 393 calls related to this issue.

“Approximately one in four women will experience domestic violence sometime in their lives,” commented Anna Slyter, program director of the McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence, an advocacy group in Hutchinson that serves Winsted and Lester Prairie.

The services are free and confidential, which encourages victims to seek the help they need.

In fact, the alliance works closely with the both the Winsted and Lester Prairie police departments.

Lester Prairie Chief of Police Robert Carlson has found the McLeod Alliance to be extremely useful in assault cases.

“Whenever we have a domestic incident, we try to involve them. They are an asset to us and are very beneficial to law enforcement,” Carlson said.

For example, the McLeod Alliance is following the Lester Prairie case of Sergio Sanchaz-Diaz, who fatally stabbed Laura Vasquez in December 2001. The appeal process is currently underway.

The alliance has been providing various services since 1992.

Destructive behavior

Domestic violence, also called battering, is defined as destructive behavior used to exert power and control over someone else, Slyter explained.

The abuse, which may be physical, sexual, or emotional, can cause permanent damage to victims and their families.

Although the majority of cases involve women, domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of employment or educational background, religion, marital status, physical ability, or age, Slyter said. “It’s important for victims to realize that it’s not their fault,” she added.

To combat this, the McLeod Alliance strives to provide a network of resources to assist victims and their families.

A 24-hour crisis line has proven to be one helpful tool. The organization also supplies safe housing and transportation for emergency situations.

The number to call is (320) 234-7933, or toll-free 1-800-934-0851. Both lines are open 24 hours a day.

One of the primary goals of the alliance is to assist victims and their families in ending violence in their homes. This is done by tailoring the programs to the needs of the victims.

Those working for the alliance realize that each situation is unique. “When people come in, we figure out how we can best help,” said Anna.

Legal options can also be explored through the McLeod Alliance.

Possible action for an assault case may include pressing criminal charges or filing for a restraining/ protective order.

In the state of Minnesota, a protective order can evict the perpetrator from the victim’s home, grant support or child custody, and prohibit the ownership of weapons.

The alliance works to make victims aware of these services.

“We provide options, but we don’t force anything on anyone. We let victims know what is available, so they can decide for themselves,” Slyter said.

Another McLeod Alliance service is educational presentations given to schools, churches, and civic organizations.

Speakers address important issues including dating violence, victim services, prevention, workplace response, and systems response.

Presentations are given to civic organizations and church groups.

Speeches are also given in both elementary and high schools. “In the younger grades, presentations usually deal more with bullying. In high school, violence in relationships is discussed,” Slyter said.

The alliance gives a variety of safety tips for those involved in domestic violence. Talking with trusted friends and family members about the situation is encouraged.

The alliance also suggests that victims plan ahead and learn to identify unsafe situations.

If a problem should arise, the brochure suggests having an escape route and an emergency bag filled with money, extra car keys, medicine, and important documents.

The services are available in Spanish as well as English.

The job is highly rewarding, Slyter said. She enjoys “seeing the clients who have gotten out of the situation and flourished.”

Working in collaboration with the community, the alliance provides safety to victims, accountability for perpetrators, and intervention for the entire family.

A support group has been established to help victims regain control of their lives while connecting with others sharing similar experiences.

The meetings, which are held weekly, usually last about 90 minutes.

Issues that are focused on include improving relationships, reducing fear, and building self-esteem.

Other discussion topics include learning to deal with anger, increasing assertiveness, and improving communication.

Volunteer opportunities also exist for people wishing to give presentations on related topics.

“We can always use volunteers!” Slyter commented.

People are also needed to assist with child care, fund raising, clerical work, transportation, organizing supplies, and leading support groups.

Those interested may call the numbers at the beginning of the story.

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