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'It Happens Here' rally held at courthouse

Domestic violence victim advocates and other supporters gathered at the Hubbard County Courthouse for a rally on Tuesday. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)

Local victim advocates joined a statewide rally Tuesday, March 7 to raise awareness to end domestic violence.

The Park Rapids rally was held at the Hubbard County Courthouse as one of 25 other events happening in the state to, in part, acknowledge Minnesotans killed because of domestic violence. Amy Workman, executive director of Headwaters Intervention Center (HIC) in Park Rapids, organized the local rally. "It Happens Here" was the theme of the statewide day of action, recognizing domestic violence happens in every county, township and city across Minnesota.

Park Rapids police officers and Hubbard County Sheriff's Office deputies also participated in the noon rally by reading names of 21 people who died due to domestic violence in 2016 — 18 of those were adult women.

Sgt. Justin Frette of the Park Rapids Police Department read off the four names of Park Rapids area women who have been killed since 1989. Those women are Elaina Nordquist Meacham, age 40, killed by her boyfriend in 1989; Sonya Marie Hennagir, age 40, killed in 2008; Dawn Marie Anderson, 45, shot and killed by her estranged husband in 2011; and Kiela Gem Knowles, 19, strangled to death in 2014.

The group of about 30 at the rally observed a moment of silence. Other area deaths since 1989 include two in Bagley, six in Cass Lake, one in Menahga, one in Ponsford and two in Wadena.

Kassandra Hafner and other victim advocates are directly affected by domestic violence. She wrote her story, entitled "I will Never Forgive You," to be shared during the rally.

Domestic violence for her started with a high school boyfriend controlling her with fear and belittling comments. In her story, Hafner wrote about the anger problems, warning signs.

"But I try to see the good in everyone. I believed that the anger issues came from some deep inner hurt, like myself, that you just needed to work through."

The hurtful comments were followed by kisses and snuggling, and she would fall back into it every time, only to be torn down again.

The control escalated.

"I wasn't allowed to have friends. If I spent time with family or friends you made it living hell the entire time," according to her story. "Calling and texting, fighting and making me feel terrible for not putting you first for once. If I didn't make it to your house within 15 minutes of being off work or school, I was cringing as I walked through the door."

He threatened to break up with her if she didn't do things he wanted.

"Then it happened. We went to a party one night and you did the one thing you swore to me you would never do. I still wonder if it was the high. If you were sober if you would have chosen not to hit me."

Verbal, emotional and physical abuse escalated from there.

"You never loved me. I don't think that you can love another person. I was only your obsession," Kassandra writes in her personal story. "You made me regret even looking and hoping for the good in a person."

Kassandra now helps other victims of domestic violence.

Workman said Tuesday it's time for communities to commit to start a conversation about domestic violence.

"Time to stop looking away and time to take action."

That's part of the message Workman and others at HIC hoped to get across at the rally. Also, to let state legislators know current funds for programs to help victims of domestic violence cannot be reduced. This being a funding year for the Legislature, Workman said support for these services are critical, and without social programming she is "scared what the town would look like."

"Domestic violence happens here in Park Rapids. It happens in Hubbard County. It happens in Clearwater County," Workman said in her speech. "It happens throughout the state of Minnesota. Today, we stand with over 20 other communities across our great state to say 'No More.'"

In Minnesota, more than 65,000 survivors of rape and abuse will reach out for service this year. Many more will never make contact with services. Still others will suffer and navigate abuse in isolation. Nearly 1,000 Minnesotans have been killed, and average of 35 each year, as a result of domestic violence since 1989.

Each time someone is killed due to domestic violence, the HIC raises its purple flag. Tuesday, they raised it for the second time in 2017.

Workman was pleased with the response for the first-time rally at the courthouse.

"I think it went really good," she said. "I'm glad we had support from law enforcement. We work closely with them. It's nice to see at least a little community support and this is definitely something to build on for next year."

When she sat down to write, Kassandra said her story came out and Workman's daughter, Kelsey, read it at the rally. Hafner hopes her story and other victim advocates sharing their experiences helps those who find themselves in trouble. Kassandra teared while writing at the office and said it's powerful hearing someone else read her story. She didn't hear her entire story read aloud on Tuesday because she took a crisis call during the reading.

"I think it's very important to know, even as a minor, there are services available in town," she said. "You are not powerless. It's scary reaching out in high school because you're already judged. It's important for them to know information they share is completely confidential.

Workman said most of the advocates at HIC have personal experience of domestic violence. And when people ask, "Why don't you just leave?" it's not as simple as that. There's the mental hold. Oftentimes victims don't have a job and a means to support themselves and children, no home. Abusers threaten to kill them. They often have alienated family members.

Workman says victims try to leave an average of seven to 10 times.

"A lot of times we have more control on the inside. It's safer to stay, or at least it feels that way."

Headwaters Intervention Center served 537 clients in 2016 and Workman reports they've already had 67 new clients in two months this year.

HIC has served the community since 1978 through advocacy, education, violence prevention and crisis intervention. The 24-hour talk and text crisis line is 1-800-939-2199.