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‘We remember’

Rally draws attention to victims of domestic abuse, calls for action from legislators

Kendra Wies read the name of a victim of domestic abuse.

“Gennie Marie Kingbird”

“We remember” was the response from the crowd of 30 people inside the Marshall-Lyon County Library.

Kingbird died in a hospital in Red Lake in 2019. Her husband contacted police and led them to his unconscious wife on a back road near Ponemah, according to the Mille Lacs Messenger. In the account, the husband stated he was intoxicated the night before and assaulted his wife. Kingbird is survived by five children.

“Mary Jo Jansen” was next.

Again, the voices from the crowd responded with “we remember.”

Jansen was shot and killed by her husband in their home, according to the newspaper account. Police received a call from the husband who told them he no longer had to “worry about a divorce now.” Jansen leaves behind two children.

Tuesday was Action Day 2020 for residents of southwest Minnesota who attended a rally hosted by the WoMen’s Rural Advocacy Program, Inc. (WRAP). Wies, who works for WRAP in Yellow Medicine County, teamed up with Trista Link to read off more names. Each time a name was read, someone would walk up to a vase placed in front of the room to insert a carnation in remembrance.

Besides remembering past victims of domestic violence, rally attendees were encouraged to fill out post cards that call for action to be sent to area legislators. The postcards are calling for elected officials to invest in domestic abuse transformation programming, housing, public transportation, and programs that serve survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“Relationship abuse hurts. Relationship abuse isolates,” WRAP Executive Director Becci tenBensel said to open up the rally. “We are here today to say relationship abuse has no place in our home or in our community.”

tenBensel repeated the WRAP’s motto of “Minnesota is safer together.

“Many of us today are survivors of relationship abuse or know someone who has experienced partner violence. They are family members, our friends, our neighbors. A person we might know or might not know. But we may very well say hello at school or in a grocery store. When we take a moment and think relationship abuse has an endless ripple effect in our communities.,” she said.

“It impacts whether or not co-workers will show up for his or her shift after their tires were slashed by the boyfriend or girlfriend. And it impacts whether or not a child will be able to concentrate on a test because he witnessed abuse in his home the previous night. There is so many ways relationship abuse shapes our lives and the people’s lives we care about.”

Brad Odegard with the Minnesota Department of Corrections talked about providing a safe place for domestic violence survivors.

“In order to end relationship abuse we must tell decision makers to fund domestic and sexual violence programs and invest time and energy and resources in transforming the main barrier of safety,” Odegard said. “We need innovative programs that stop violence from happening again and prevents violence from happening. We must encourage people who harm to change their behavior. Decision makers must make domestic abuse transformational programming a priority. Beyond transforming the behaviors of people who abuse, safety means survivors have access to transportation, safe homes to raise their children and gainful employment.”

Odegard stated that relationship abuse is the leading cause of homelessness for women and their children. He said more than 55,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence in Minnesota reach out for services each year.

“But many more never get in touch with domestic or sexual violence programs,” he said. “Some will never tell anyone in their life. Not their family members, not their friends, not their faith leaders and will navigate abuse and isolation.”

Tony Rolling, a investigator with the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department reminded everybody at the rally that together “we can make a change.”

“Too many people have prolonged contact with the criminal justice system without meaningful accountability for their actions and transform their own behaviors.. We must work together to transform abusive behaviors because if we don’t, there will always be another victim,” Rollins said.

Denise Prellwitz, Project Turnabout business intake coordinator, talked about using the Duluth model — an ever-evolving way of thinking about how a community works together to end domestic violence.

“We work on changing and challenging the perpetrators beliefs and attitudes of entitlement which justifies their use of abusive behaviors toward their partners. We look at cultural and social context in which they use violence against their partner. They haven’t looked at the negative effects of their behavior and their relationships and accept responsibility for the impact their violence has had on their partners. And by having them look at their actions and what their intent was to use the power and control,” she said.

“We talk about non-threatening behaviors — respect, trust and support, honesty and accountability.”

Jenna Peterson with the Redwood County Attorney’s Office.

During the period of Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2019, WRAP provided services to 3,466 people involved in domestic violence.

“People from our communities, our neighbors, co-workers, our family and friends,” she said. “The services included assistance with victim compensation applications, information and referrals to other supports within our communities, personal advocacy, emotional support and safety services, shelter, counseling services and criminal, and/or justice assistance.

“During the months of October, November, December alone, WRAP provided 40 neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members with access to emergency shelter and housing assistance. That included 197 nights of emergency shelter stays so that they will have a safe place to live. WRAP also provided relocation services 407 times. This included connecting them to community resources such as Community Action programs, HUD housing programs and Southwest Health and Human Resources services. Helping them to search for safe, affordable long-term housing options. Advocating with landlords, connecting them to financial resources to help cover expenses such as rental deposits, past-due bills, long-term access to housing.”

Angela Larson serves as family services director with United Community Action Partnership. She said UCAP works with people facing poverty and crisis.

“Did you know HUD allows someone who’s fleeing domestic violence is considered homeless and therefore eligible for many of our housing programs?” she asked. “The last couple years I can say that the partnership between United Community Action Partnership and WRAP has really grown. We begun to work much more closely together and I’m thankful for that. We’ve even developed a new rapid rehousing program specifically for people who are fleeing domestic violence. This program allows people to get short-, medium-term rental assistance with services from both UCAP and WRAP.

Often times, Larson said people need shelter before moving into new housing. The partnership helps to provide emergency shelter.

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