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Resources available for community to help victims of violence

In the wake of the tragic domestic violence incident Tuesday evening in Park Rapids, members of the community are asking how they can help or offer support to others in similar situations.

Becci Leonard, executive director of the Headwaters Intervention Center, said she has been getting a lot of questions and phone calls this week.

"People are wondering how to talk to someone in these situations, what they can do to help," she said.

Informing the community about domestic violence is one of the first steps. Leonard has given presentations to groups and organizations about domestic violence, what services are available and how to approach a victim.

"It's not easy and often it's difficult for a victim to open up to someone," she said.

Leonard shared some information from the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence about offering words of support and what questions to ask.

Start by saying, "I'm afraid for your safety" or "I'm afraid for your children's safety." And make sure the victim knows that you are there to offer support.

"Often times, if a victim comes to you, it might be the first time they have talked to someone about their situation," Leonard said. "Make sure you're not asking them why they didn't leave or putting the blame on them."

The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence also offers the following advice: keep in mind that it's important to believe the victim, respect choices made by the victim, empathize with the emotional strain, acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, and try again if the victim is reluctant to open up.

Domestic violence can escalate, often in situations where a victim makes the decision to leave the abuser, Leonard said.

According to the 2011 Femicide Report, issued by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, there were 15 women murdered in Minnesota in 2010 by a current or former intimate partner. Of the 15, eight were murder-suicides.

Safety is a priority and Leonard says Orders for Protection are a good tool but sometimes can't be enforced as well as law enforcement would like.

"An Order for Protection clearly defines what someone can or can't do and gives law enforcement a document to use in some situations," she said.

It's difficult, though, when a husband calls his wife and says, "I miss you, I miss the kids, for example," Leonard said. "The wife might feel bad about reporting that to the police.

"Domestic violence is so hard because it's between two people who love each other. It's complicated."

Before getting an Order for Protection, it's good to have an advocate to work with and talk to about the situation, she said.

Those services are available at the Headwaters Intervention Center.

"We encourage victims to take the power back and make decisions for themselves," Leonard said. "We give them advice but don't tell them what to do because they've probably been able to make very few choices for themselves."

Safety needs to be a priority, as well.

"Before getting an Order for Protection or leaving, any of those things, make sure to have a safety plan," Leonard said. "Talk with law enforcement, figure out an escape plan, know your safety net."

Having a plan in place won't ensure protection but it's definitely needed, she said.

"Lethality goes up once the victim decides to leave," Leonard said. "It's scary."

The community needs to be on board in discussing domestic violence.

"As a community, we should not assume that there is nothing we can do to prevent intimate partner homicides," according to the 2011 Femicide Report. "While the ultimate responsibility for these murders rests with the perpetrators alone, opportunities for meaningful intervention in many of these cases were missed," the report states.

The Headwaters Intervention Center offers community support with advocacy, education and crisis intervention. For more information about domestic violence, call the center at 732-7413. The crisis line is 800-939-2199.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561