A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, several years ago.
STATISTICS IMPRESS. But stories impress more. And what we do after we hear those numbers and those stories matters. Profoundly.
Take a story shared by Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen on Friday evening during a meeting on domestic violence. Sponsored by HOPE Center, the event aimed to get men in the community talking, caring about and speaking up on the issue. I was among the women, outnumbered by men, in the audience.
In 2001, before he joined the Faribault force, Bohlen was called to the scene of a murder. A “domestic,” in which a 4-year-old boy was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend. No one called the police when they heard the boy screaming. Previously or on the day of the murder. Every adult failed that 4-year-old, the chief said. The child’s horrific death profoundly affected Bohlen.
“We (police department) never try to fail a kid or a family,” he said, also praising HOPE Center, its Blueprint for Safety plan (a collaborative county-wide effort to address domestic violence) and local social workers. He praised, too, those gathered at South Central College for Friday’s event. “It’s the right thing to do, to get involved.”
A plaque honors Barb Larson, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism employee, who was shot to death by her ex-husband in the tourism office on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
As I listened to the chief, to HOPE Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher, Prosecuting Attorney and HOPE Board Chair Wendy Murphy, guest speaker Scott Miller of Duluth’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs and audience members, I considered that we likely each brought stories of domestic abuse to the room. I expect that every one of you reading this post has, in some way, been affected by domestic violence. Directly or indirectly. For example, in December 2016, two high profile murder-suicides within weeks rocked Faribault, forever changing my southern Minnesota community. We are much more aware. People are talking. Men (and women) of Courage.
We can take our experiences and hold them or we can, as HOPE Director Staab-Absher encouraged, start having those difficult conversations to end the shame and silence of domestic violence, to show compassion to survivors and those who love them, and to hold abusers accountable. She challenged attendees to begin thinking of ways they can accomplish that.
Information from a previous meeting on domestic violence in my community.
Miller, himself a childhood victim of abuse and bullying, works in Duluth with men who batter. To end the silence. To make a difference. He offered insights on abusers, saying they see themselves as better than women—controlling a woman’s space and winning. I found that word choice, “winning,” especially unsettling. Miller also explained that an abusive personality uses whatever his victim values (ie. car, faith, family) as leverage to punish or gain submission.
In his work with abusers, Miller strives to listen, not to tell. To hear the men’s stories. To encourage these men to think about emotions, to express feelings, to work on changing.
Among the inspirational words honoring Barb Larson in a memorial mosaic at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Office. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
As I listened to Miller and the others, I experienced a mix of emotions. Hope. Despair. Sadness. Empowerment. Anger.
In the past five years, Faribault police have responded to 630 verbal and physical domestic violence calls and 190 sexual assault calls, Police Chief Bohlen said, adding that the actual number of cases (because so many go unreported) can be conservatively doubled.
Attorney Murphy stated that getting a conviction in Rice County is “extremely hard.” I wanted to stand up and ask, “Why?” I had too many questions.
But I held my questions, choosing instead to simply listen. To a pastor, among four in attendance. He shared about a woman who called him. A woman hiding in her room, dresser shoved against the door, as her partner rushed up the stairs in pursuit of her. The pastor called the police. She was angry. At him. The pastor. He recognized the seriousness of the situation, of the need to call police to protect this woman. “Don’t call me. Call the police,” he told those attending Friday’s gathering.
Guest speaker Miller earlier brought clergy into the conversation, terming them, and not the police, as the 911 for many people. Abusers, he said, may claim to “find Jesus in prison,” then manipulate unknowing pastors. I felt gratitude in that moment for Miller bringing that component into the conversation and for the four pastors in attendance, men of faith learning and standing up and refusing to remain silent about domestic violence.
Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg five years ago, this powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.
It takes all of us. Men. Women. Communities. Individually and collectively. Personally and professionally. To think and talk about ways to end domestic violence and sexual assault. To end the silence. To act. To make a difference.
FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help from a place like HOPE Center. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. You deserve to live a life free of abuse and violence. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, seek the advice of advocates to learn how you can best support and help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling