Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 24, 2005

Area organizations speak out during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

There are 13 wooden crosses dotting local Hutchinson businesses, to advertise a candlelight vigil which took place Wednesday, conducted by McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence.

But these crosses are no ordinary symbol. Each cross represents a Minnesota woman who died last year because of domestic violence.

Darlene Coughlan is executive director of Rivers of Hope in Monticello, a non-profit organization serving Wright and Sherburne counties since 1989. Coughlan realizes domestic violence is a national issue that is hard to address on a local level.

“Domestic violence impacts everyone. It ripples out and touches all of us, but it is difficult to talk about,” Coughlan said.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It evolved from the first Day of Unity observed in October 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed.

“It is a nationally declared month to really focus on heightening and increasing the awareness of domestic violence throughout our communities and across the nation,” Coughlan said.

Every 15 seconds, a woman is assaulted and beaten in the US, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Meaning, by the time it took to read to this point in the article, about three more women have been beaten.

This month focuses on remembering past victims, and helping present ones.

The candlelight vigil, which took place in Library Square Park in Hutchinson, is one example of area projects designed to remember those who have been affected by, or lost their lives to, domestic violence.

Other area projects included a training session by a national investigator in domestic violence, and a fundraising fall ball and gala, organized by Rivers of Hope.

The month also provides a rallying point to work towards ending domestic violence.

“Domestic violence is family violence and it is everywhere. It may be your neighbor or a child you know,” Coughlan said.

Rachel Bratz, who works with McLeod Alliance, and Coughlan agree it is a problem in local communities.

Together, the McLeod Alliance and Rivers of Hope served more than 2,000 people last year, alone.

Rivers of Hope served 500 more than the previous year.

“That is a direct response of those in need of our services. We don’t advertise,” Coughlan said. “These people are seeking help.”

Both organizations offer services ranging from direct advocacy, transportation, support groups, and support in court.

“We can’t speak for them, but we can go to court to support them. It is often very traumatic and confusing for them,” Coughlan said.

In addition, Rivers of Hope has been reaching out to schools in an effort to end domestic violence.

“We place a high emphasis on education. Our primary goal is truly to help youth find different coping methods so we can break the generational cycle of abuse,” Coughlan said.

The program is currently incorporated in 15 different area middle and high schools.

Rivers of Hope also hosts youth programs for children who have been abused, or are living in abusive homes. Free child care is also offered for people who wish to attend support groups and want to bring their children.

Although there are many ways these groups can help, sometimes, the most difficult step is getting there.

“In general, people are very reluctant to seek help. It is difficult for people to acknowledge it is happening,” Coughlan said.

There is a 24-hour crisis line, which a victim, or concerned friend can call, just to get more information.

A high emphasis is also placed on following up on each case.

“Our goal isn’t to break up families, but help to make healthier families,” Coughlan said.

There are also a variety of ways for people who want to help. Volunteers are always needed at both McLeod Alliance and Rivers of Hope.

“Volunteers do many things, ranging from working directing with clients to running errands and performing office duties,” Bratz said.

Volunteer child care is also a need, especially at Rivers of Hope, while people attend support groups.

There is also an opportunity to work with McLeod Alliance during the holidays as the Christmas project helps families get Christmas gifts.

Donations in any form are also welcome, including gas and food cards.

For more information, call Rivers of Hope (763) 295-3433 or McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence (320) 234-7933.

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