By Starrla Cray
McLEOD COUNTY, MN She can’t believe this is happening. The police have just left, and they’ve arrested her husband for domestic violence.
A 4-year-old in a pink nightgown appears on the stairway. “Mommy, I heard yelling. Are you OK?”
“Everything will be fine, sweetie,” the woman says, brushing the hair from her daughter’s face.
But deep down, she wonders if it’s true.
A million questions run through her mind. Was I wrong to call 911? What if he comes back? What if he hits me again? What if he doesn’t come back? What will the neighbors think? What do I tell my family?
Suddenly, she remembers the packet of information the police left on the kitchen table. It’s from the McLeod Alliance For Victims of Domestic Violence.
She calls the 24-hour crisis line, and is given immediate, confidential help. The next morning, she visits the center (101 Park Place) in downtown Hutchinson, where a caring advocate provides valuable resources and a listening ear.
Support and safety
Situations like that are familiar at the McLeod Alliance, which has served about 4,000 men, women, and children throughout McLeod County in the past 20 years.
“We are looking for resources for people constantly,” Advocacy Coordinator Glynis Vacek said. “All of the stories are a little different, and the needs are different.”
Whether it’s through a support group, transportation, or assistance in filing restraining orders, the McLeod Alliance is ready to lend a hand.
“We let victims know what their rights are, and what to expect after an arrest,” Vacek said. “We don’t always have the answers, but we will listen.”
Help and healing
From October 2011 to September 2012, the alliance served 265 victims 168 were new clients; 18 were men; and three were teens. Victims typically visit the alliance multiple times for continued support.
“It’s a long healing process,” board member Jane Otto said. “Unfortunately, oftentimes victims feel like they’ve failed in some way, even though they haven’t.”
Otto, who lives south of Winsted, joined the board of directors about 10 years ago. She currently serves as an RN, but it was her former career as a journalist that prompted her to volunteer.
“Reporting on the sorrow and hurt that domestic abuse causes made me realize I want to do more,” she noted, adding that she is grateful for her marriage, and wants others to have good relationships, as well.
The volunteer board of directors also includes Linda Senst, Jackie Backen, Dan Hatten, Carla Wegner, Jody Winters, and McLeod County Sheriff Scott Rehmann.
Rehmann, who lives in Winsted with his wife and four children, worked as a chemical dependency counselor for 10 years before entering law enforcement.
“I believe that if we work to protect our families from violence through education, intervention, and resources we will turn around the number of young people who find comfort in the world of drugs and alcohol,” Rehmann noted.
In 2012, at least 11 minor children in Minnesota were left motherless due to their mothers’ domestic violence murders. Seven of those young children were present when their mother was killed or they discovered the body.
In an effort to end the cycle of abuse, the McLeod Alliance frequently gives domestic violence presentations at area schools.
“If people grow up with domestic violence, it becomes the normal,” Vacek said. “We help young people learn to recognize what domestic violence is, and help them learn what is healthy vs. unhealthy.”
Vacek joined McLeod Alliance in 1998 as a volunteer, after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper.
“I was at a point in my life where I wanted to give back to the community,” she said.
Today, Vacek serves as the alliance’s only full-time staff member. Part-time staff includes legal advocate Jill Barrall, bilingual advocate Nora Young, and director Rhonda Buerkle.
“We all have different talents, and we work really well together as a team,” Vacek said.
About 15 to 20 volunteers also provide assistance, whether it’s sitting next to victims at court proceedings, helping with safety planning, or promoting the alliance at various events.
“Whatever we can do to help,” Vacek said. “It’s lots of conversations, lots of listening. We never, ever judge.”
When people ask Vacek how she can remain positive after hearing so many stories of domestic abuse, she tells them that, despite painful situations, she sees a lot of goodness in the people around her.
“I see strength in the women who come here for help,” Vacek said. “They’re fighting a war every day, just to survive.”
Vacek added that happy endings do exist, and victims who find their way to a better place sometimes come back to say “thank you.”
“The best part is hearing that these gals are OK,” Vacek said.
To learn more about the McLeod Alliance, go to www.mcleodalliance.org.
Is this an abusive relationship?
Some forms of domestic abuse are harder to recognize than others. According to the McLeod Alliance, abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. Below are a few characteristics of an abusive relationship:
• The couple may avoid being around others;
• One person appears to be making the decisions for both people;
• Both people avoid discussing problem areas in the relationship;
• One person may be blamed for causing all the problems;
• One person may be jealous or accusing;
• The couple experiences intense/violent arguments;
• One person tries to isolate the other one, and may sabotage friendships;
• One person may be quiet and not call attention to self unless told to do so by the significant other;
• Communication appears unhealthy, ineffective, and one-sided; and
• One person may begin to do something the other person clearly does not want to do, such as engaging in sexual behavior.
The McLeod Alliance aims to provide education, empowerment, protection, and advocacy to victims of domestic violence. To seek help, or to volunteer, contact the alliance at:
• 101 Park Place, downtown Hutchinson
• (320) 234-7933 or 1-800-934-0851