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Legal advocacy center assisting domestic abuse victims

Victims fleeing domestic abuse have a new advocate.

A St. Paul-based, nonprofit law firm is collaborating with the Headwaters Intervention Center to provide legal training to the shelter's staff and free legal advice to the shelter's clients.

Domestic Abuse Legal Advocacy Center offers advice through special, monthly clinics.

"Legal issues can often be the biggest obstacle for victims of domestic violence to overcome," said Kassie Hafner, Headwaters Intervention Center's legal advocacy manager. "This legal clinic gives our clients the information and insight needed to approach their legal issues with less fear of the unknown."

Each client gets roughly a half-hour of pro bono, professional legal advice, said Amy Workman, HIC executive director. They receive information regarding orders for protection, harassment restraining orders, divorce, child custody, landlord/tenant issues and eviction expungements.

Attorneys Evon Spangler and Rachel Schromen are the founders of Domestic Abuse Legal Advocacy Center. Formed in January 2016, the nonprofit center currently assists the Headwaters Intervention Center and Women's Advocates Inc., a battered women's shelter in St. Paul.

Spangler and Schromen say they have a strong belief that legal advocacy plays a vital and critical role in stopping the cycle of abuse.

Spangler, a Menahga High School graduate, has family and a lake cabin in the Park Rapids area.

The collaboration with HIC began in July 2016. In the first month, the attorneys provided legal advice to more than 10 clients at HIC.

"We feel very fortunate to be able to have access to skilled professionals who are dedicated to our mission of helping victims of domestic violence. Their knowledge and advice has been indispensable to us," said Workman.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, "so we at the Headwaters Intervention Center are encouraging our communities to learn more about how we can put an end to violence," Workman said.

Last year, there were at least 34 known deaths in Minnesota as a result of domestic violence.

In 2015, HIC assisted 198 clients. So far this year, the shelter has provided services to 536 women, men and children. HIC granted emergency shelter, safe housing and transitional housing to over 45 women and children.

Workman attributes the dramatic increase to greater community awareness. "People are feeling more comfortable coming forward," she said.

HIC hosts its annual fall fundraiser on Friday, Oct. 7 at the Park Rapids American Legion. Freewill donations are welcome for the meal.

"Ending domestic violence takes neighbors, business owners and faith communities willing to get involved and to provide a circle of support," said Workman.