Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts on domestic violence six months after a high profile murder in my community June 28, 2017

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SIX MONTHS AGO a former Faribault police officer walked into the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office and murdered his ex-wife, then turned the gun on himself. It was a crime that left my community reeling just days before Christmas.

On Tuesday, The Faribault Daily News published a column by Chamber and Tourism President Kymn Anderson reflecting on life since the death of her friend and 12-year employee Barb Larson. Click here to read that piece on the Chamber website. In summary, Anderson writes about the grief she and her staff experienced, the support they received and ways in which Barb is being honored and remembered. All are important topics to cover when dealing with a violent crime that had such a profound affect on a community.

 

A photo of recent police reports published in the local paper. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This high profile case has created in Faribault a heightened awareness of domestic violence. Yet, is it a sustaining awareness? Six months from now, a year from now, five years from now will we have forgotten? Will we view this as an isolated incident or will we continue to wonder why, week after week, local law enforcement are called to respond to reports of domestic assault? What are we doing to reduce those numbers, to personally help those women who continue to be victimized?

I struggle with those tag words of domestic assault, as if domestic relegates the crime to something less important, for example, than a bar fight or a street fight. To me, domestic diminishes the crime and subconsciously lays some of the blame on the victim. As a wordsmith, I pay attention to language usage. And so does Jackson Katz, an educator who spoke on “The Language of Gender Violence” at Middlebury College, a private liberal arts college in Vermont. He claims that the way we talk and write about gender violence places blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Click here to read the story; it’s worth your time. And then consider how we as a society label these crimes against (mostly) women.

 

A snippet of the My inner chick homepage. Don’t let the “B” word scare you from reading this powerful blog.

 

I am passionate about educating others on the crime of domestic violence. So is Minnesotan Kim Sisto Robinson of Duluth. On May 26, 2010, Kim’s brother-in-law shot and killed Kim’s sister, Kay, and then killed himself. A month after Kay’s murder, Kim started blogging. She writes with depth, grief, honesty, passion and fire—her words flaming from her heart and soul. Kim holds nothing back. Not her grief. Not her anger. Not her desire to help others. Not her anything. If you want a personal glimpse into how domestic violence/murder has affected one woman, then read My inner chick. In her grief, Kim rises to inspire and bring hope. She has committed to raising her voice against domestic violence. In Kay’s honor.

 

The homepage for Ruth’s House website.

 

How about you? Have you educated yourself and loved ones on domestic abuse and violence? Do you notice red flags in relationships and trust your gut? Do you speak up or remain silent? In early June a Minnesota State Representative intervened when he observed a man beating a woman in downtown St. Paul. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same as it may not always be safe. But, at least call the police. I’ve done so myself, when I watched a guy shoving a woman along my street. I also called out a teen who was getting verbally abusive with his female companion. I refuse to remain silent.

I am grateful to the many organizations, like my local HOPE Center and Ruth’s House, that help women in need and their families. I love that word hope. It is such a positive, and powerful, word.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
(h/t to HOPE Center for the Jackson Katz article)

NOTE: I realize that men are also the victims of domestic abuse. But because the majority are women, I reference women when writing on this topic.

 

On target with my recovery, go gentle on the hugs & other thoughts June 23, 2017

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I’m not good at taking selfies. So I turned the camera on my mirrored image. I took this image a week ago, about 3 1/2 weeks into my recovery.

 

A MONTH AND FOUR DAYS (yes, I’m counting days) into recovery from a broken right shoulder, I am healing on schedule. That’s according to my orthopedic doctor who was all smiles when he saw me Wednesday afternoon.

I was relieved by the good report given I’ve experienced recent shifting and incidences of severe pain in the break area. That’s normal, he said, explaining that I’m feeling muscle and nerve pain related to the injury. Whew. I thought perhaps the crack in my bone had widened.

I’m continuing with two home exercises—elbow flexing and the pendulum swing—with professional physical therapy likely starting the week of July Fourth. And bonus, when I’m in a secure environment at home, I can remove my body hugging arm sling. But I still basically need to keep my arm tight to my side. No reaching to my right.

Mentally, I keep reminding myself that this disability is only temporary and that others deal with far worse injuries. I have a wonderfully supportive husband who helps me with basic caregiving needs and who also is keeping everything up (mostly) on the homefront.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder from several weeks ago. To the untrained non medical professional, it’s difficult to see the fracture. It’s there in the humerus.

 

I’m not a particularly patient person, but I’m learning. There is always something to be learned in whatever situations we face in life. Good health is not something any of us should assume will always be ours. I never expected to miss a step, fall and end up with a broken shoulder. Just like I never expected to get osteoarthritis and undergo total hip replacement some 10 years ago. And I never expected to spend an entire summer battling whooping cough.

From all of these health issues, I’ve learned empathy, deeper compassion and an appreciation for others. As a woman of faith, I’ve also drawn closer to God. I’ve never asked, “Why me?” I’m not going to tell you it’s always been easy; it hasn’t. I get frustrated and just want to be able to do everyday tasks. Professionally, I’ve had to limit computer usage (thus writing time) due to pain and I can’t take photos with my Canon DSLR. This is prime season for photography.

 

A month after my fall, I continue to receive get well cards. This ongoing support for someone with a lengthy recovery is so appreciated.

 

I’ve appreciated the ongoing encouragement via conversations/emails/texts and in cards sent. Do not underestimate the value of a get well card. My personal experiences are useful now as I pen greeting card verses for Warner Press with an end of July deadline.

There are two things, though, that people should note related to my injury. Do not ask, in jest, if Randy pushed me. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, funny about domestic violence. I have written tirelessly on the subject here and have zero tolerance for domestic abuse and violence. I fell; my husband did not abuse me and to suggest such in humor diminishes the crime of domestic violence.

Also, be gentle on the hugs. I am extremely protective of my right side. I’ve had to stop about a half dozen people as they reached out to touch me on my right arm. There is a reason I am wearing a sling.

Last week I simplified one aspect of my life by getting my hair cut super short. I am grateful to the stylist at Sunset Salon who understood my needs. I love my new style which requires only my fingers and mousse to shape it. Randy is appreciative, too.

I am grateful to all of you also for your continuing encouragement and readership of this blog.

Please take what you’ve read here today and do something positive. Reach out with kindness to a stranger or to a friend/family member. Send a card/text/email. Make a phone call. Visit someone in recovery. Prepare a meal. Offer a ride. Hold a door. Offer praise and empathy and support. In these days when we witness so much violence and hatred in the world, it is more important than ever to express compassion and care. We need each other. We really do.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Any “domestic” is one too many June 2, 2017

 

SEVEN DOMESTIC CALLS in four days…and one call for violation of a restraining order.

The stats, published on the May 31 Matters of Record page in the Faribault Daily News, shocked me. That’s a lot of domestic-related calls handled by the Faribault Police Department from May 26-29 in a community of some 23,000.

I’ve been especially cognizant of local domestic situations since the late December 2016 high profile murder of Barb Larson by Richard Larson. The former Faribault police officer committed suicide after killing his ex-wife at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. She had a restraining order against him, granted within days of her murder.

Just weeks prior to the Larson murder-suicide, Ryan Perizzo murdered 8-year-old Lynnaya Stoddard-Espinoza before killing himself in their Faribault home.

Those crimes shook my community. And they should have.

But the reports I am reading of nearly daily domestic calls within Faribault should shake all of us, too. Four in one day. To all different parts of my community. Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone in any neighborhood. And it does. I’ve witnessed such abuse and called police.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I recall my Uncle Bob, a retired Minneapolis police officer, telling me domestic calls are the most dangerous. Why? Emotions and passions are running high. Perpetrators of abuse often fail to accept responsibility for their actions and blame others. They desire power and control. All of those factors put victims, and law enforcement, at great risk.

What can we, the public, do? We can educate ourselves (and our kids) so that we understand domestic abuse and violence. We can refuse to remain silent. We can listen to and support victims and connect them with resources to help them escape abusive situations. We can encourage the judicial and probation systems to hold offenders accountable. Too often these abusers walk away with little or no punishment, only to reoffend.

Frankly, I am tired of it.

Consider, too, for a moment how many cases of domestic abuse go unreported. Compare it to the motorist who drives drunk many many times before he is finally stopped for driving while under the influence. Or maybe he’s never caught.

Be aware that domestic abuse is not just physical. It’s emotional, too. That abuse can also be psychological, mental, spiritual, financial and technological. Abusers are often narcissistic. They manipulate and twist and exert their power. They are the center of the world, in their eyes, and you better not challenge that.

I wish I could wave a magical wand and end domestic abuse and violence. But because I can’t, I can at least spread awareness. And there is power in using my voice.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: My insights into domestic abuse and violence are not specific to the cases cited within this post. Also note that if you are in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim. Seek professional help to make a safe exit. Know, too, that a restraining order is just that, an order, with no guarantee of protection. 

 

Beyond violence, two artists show that hope rises March 7, 2017

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

TUCKED INTO TWO CORNERS in two galleries are two tributes by two artists.

Both honor Barb Larson, murdered on December 23, 2016, in an act of domestic violence. She was a long-time friend to artist Judy Saye-Willis and an acquaintance to artist Dana Hanson. Both chose to remember Barb in their exhibits currently showing at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

Dana painted an oil on canvas portrait of Barb, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism employee who stopped occasionally to place orders at the bakery where Dana works. “I just wanted to do something positive to remember…she was genuine and very nice,” Dana said. The result is her “In Memory of Barb Larson” painting, based on a photo.

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis also honors Barb Larson. The pieces, from left to right, are titled "Darkness of Death 1", "Darkness of Death 2", "Destruction", "Hope", "Hope Rising" and "The Light of Hope".

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis focuses on death and hope. The pieces, from left to right, are titled “Darkness of Death 1,” “Darkness of Death 2,” “Destruction,” “Hope,” “Hope Rising” and “The Light of Hope.”

Judy’s artwork themed on death and hope spans half a wall and includes six pieces. Three framed works were already completed prior to Barb’s murder. They are an expression of “what’s happening in our culture today,” she said, specifically citing ISIS and the violence in Aleppo, Syria, as inspiring the art. But, once the events of December 23 unfolded locally, Judy created three more related fiber art pieces using natural dye materials. The result is a compelling series of framed art and panels focusing on death and hope.

I angled my camera up to photograph "Darkness of Death 2."

I angled my camera up to photograph “Darkness of Death 2.” When Judy created this scene with blood dripping and an executioner’s mask, she was thinking of ISIS and the violence/situation in Aleppo.

“…I was feeling raw, emotional with nowhere to go with it,” Judy said. “It (Barb’s murder) was senseless. I went to my studio and started the first piece. I tried three times to dye the piece black, unsuccessfully. I called it “The Darkness of Death 1.”

Simply titled: "Hope."

Madonna and child, simply titled: “Hope.”

Once she finished the black panel, Judy transitioned into the theme of hope. That was prompted by a Catholic church official she heard talking about faith and hope on the morning of December 23 (the day of Barb’s murder) on CBS This Morning. The result is two more hope-inspired fiber art panels.

As I viewed both artists’ tributes to Barb Larson, I could see the emotion within the artwork. Dana succeeds, through the strokes of her brush and the paint colors she chose, to portray the woman described as vivacious and friendly by those who knew her. Genuine warmth glows in Dana’s painting of Barb. I can see Barb’s personality in that portrait.

Judy’s art differs significantly, leaving more open to interpretation, more room for the viewer to insert his/her experiences, emotions and reactions. In the first three darker pieces, beginning with the length of black-dyed cloth, there is no ignoring the darkness of a violent death. That Judy chose to confront and share that in her work makes a powerful visual public statement whether considering the violence in Aleppo or the violence in Faribault.

"Hope Rising," says Judy Saye-Willis, "is about moving forward from tragedy."

“Hope Rising,” says Judy Saye-Willis, “is about moving forward from tragedy.”

Equally as important are the three hope-inspired pieces that follow. Those, too, make a powerful visual public statement.

A close-up of "The Light of Hope," which Judy calls her strongest piece.

A close-up of “The Light of Hope,” which Judy calls the strongest piece in this series.

Through their art, Judy and Dana have opened the conversation about domestic and other violence in a deeply personal, emotional and introspective way.

Dana’s exhibit includes a trio of horse paintings titled MESSENGERS OF HOPE. They are, left to right, subtitled “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace”

And any time we begin to think and talk about these difficult issues, hope rises.

FYI: At noon today, HOPE Center and the Faribault Chamber are rallying at the Chamber office (where Barb Larson was murdered) as part of a statewide effort, “It Happens Here: A Statewide Day to End Domestic Violence.”

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the artists.

 

“It Happens Here” events raise awareness about domestic violence in Minnesota March 6, 2017

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FROM BEMIDJI IN THE NORTH to Albert Lea near the Iowa border, from the prairie land of Wheaton to the river bluffs of Red Wing and from the small town of Glenwood to sprawling Minneapolis, Minnesotans are coming together on Tuesday. United from rural to urban, communities are breaking the silence. They—survivors, advocates and others—are gathering to say “no more” to domestic violence.

The list of communities participating in the "It Happens Here" event is posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

The list of communities participating in the “It Happens Here” event is posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

It is part of a statewide effort, “It Happens Here: A Statewide Day to End Domestic Violence.” Events begin at noon (unless otherwise noted), including at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. Chamber staffer Barb Larson was murdered there on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband. HOPE Center is co-hosting the rally with the Chamber.

Gatherings across Minnesota will focus on the key areas of empathy, refuge, healing and solutions.

That starts with each of us. Individually. We must care about victims of domestic abuse and violence and about those who love them. We must care about the communities affected by domestic violence.

We must support the places that offer refuge to victims. Places likes HOPE Center provide help and hope.

We must encourage healing.

And we must work together to end domestic violence, defined as “a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” That can take the form of physical, psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, technological and financial abuse. One in three Minnesota women are victims of domestic violence.

One is one too many.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How Faribault is honoring Barb Larson with an outdoor art installation February 17, 2017

NEARLY TWO MONTHS have passed since Barb Larson was shot to death by her ex-husband at her work place, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. Dick Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself.

Today my community continues to heal, to create an awareness of domestic violence and to celebrate the life of this vivacious and vibrant woman. I feel a real sense of unity, a deepening compassion and a connectedness that I’ve not experienced before in Faribault.

And now that care is extending to a public art project that honors Barb’s life. The Chamber is seeking proposals from area artists for an outdoor sculptural installation on the very building where Barb was killed.

 

The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson.

The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson and are meant to inspire artists in proposing a public sculpture in her honor.

The concept the Chamber hopes to convey is depicted in descriptive words submitted by those who knew Barb. Words like friendly, welcoming, vivacious, energetic, caring, kind… I never knew Barb. But based on the words filling a word cloud on the request for proposals, I understand why she was much beloved. I think all of us would like to be remembered with such positive adjectives.

Artists’ proposals are being accepted through March 24. Click here for more information. What a great opportunity to propose artwork that represents all the positive qualities Barb embodied.

We are a community that continues to heal. And we are a community determined to focus on the spirit of goodness and light in the darkness of tragedy.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

2016 Femicide Report: The stories, the stats, the call for action in Minnesota January 31, 2017

The 2016 Femicide Report and

The 2016 Femicide Report and a guide from the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial, both projects of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

FORTY-FOUR PAGES.

This information about Barb Larson's murder was displayed with a personalized t-shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by and courtesty of Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Cooridnator.

This information about Barb Larson was displayed with a personalized shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator.

Names of 21 known domestic violence homicide victims, including that of Barbara Larson from my community, are printed within those pages. She was shot to death on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

An index lists section titles like Homicide Statistics, Red Flags for Batterer Lethality, Findings & Recommendations, Our Charge to Minnesota Communities, Victim Stories

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul takes the podium. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell speaks. Schnell received a 2016 MCBW Inspire Award “as a community ally for improving law enforcement responses to victims of domestic and sexual violence.” Photo by Erica Staab.

This comprises the 2016 Femicide Report released Tuesday morning by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. It is a document packed with statistics, facts, names, stories, educational information and recommendations all related to domestic violence homicides in Minnesota in 2016.

I challenge each of you to read this document by clicking here. It matters not whether you live in Minnesota, half-way across the country or on the other side of the world. If you read this report, you will better understand domestic violence, how it affects all of us and how you can make a difference.

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of all 21 individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of 21 known individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson is pictured on the left, second photo from the top.

Be forewarned that the victim stories, especially, are difficult to read. But those are necessary to put a face to this violence, to provide clarity, to effect change. This needs to be a collective effort.

HOPE Center staffers and Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson in honoring her memory. The family is holding the personalized t-shirt designed in Barb's memory for The Clothesline Project.

HOPE Center staffers Erica, left, Olivia, Sandra and Nikki, right, along with Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson’s family in honoring Barb during the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial. The family holds the personalized shirt created in Barb’s memory for The Clothesline Project. Photo courtesy of Erica Staab.

I am especially grateful for places like HOPE Center, offering support to victims/survivors of violence (and those who love them) in Faribault and throughout Rice County. HOPE staffers participated in the MCBW’s Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday in St. Paul as did a captain from the Faribault Police Department.

This The Clothesline Project t-shirt honors Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

A closer look at The Clothesline Project shirt honoring Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

Rather than attempt to summarize more of the 2016 Femicide Report, I leave you with this strong statement published in the Foreword:

Victims deserve to be believed, to be heard, and to be safe in their homes and in public. We still need to invest in resources, effective interventions, and in accountability measures that are victim centered, including prevention efforts. We can also work to end these homicides by being a resource ourselves for victims; as their family members, friends, faith leaders, employers, teachers, and neighbors. Services provide necessary tools and support, but it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

Allow me to highlight what I perceive to be particularly important words in that paragraph: believe, accountability, victim centered and prevention.

And finally: …it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

TELL ME: How is your community tackling domestic violence? What are you doing to make a difference?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling