Not even three months in and already it has been a deadly year in Minnesota.
Stories about women being killed by their partners have dominated the headlines, a constant reminder of the ultimate danger of abusive relationships.
By Connie Moore’s count, eight women in the state have died as a result of domestic violence since 2013 began.
Moore is the executive director of Alexandra House, an Anoka County-based non-profit organization that offers shelter for domestic abuse victims, along with ongoing support and follow up services for victims of both domestic and sexual violence.
While none of those women were killed in Anoka County, it still illustrates the constant concern for families navigating in unsafe relationships.
Many of the women killed were in the process of leaving their abuser.
“What we do know is that when a person decides they are done with a relationship that can be the most dangerous time,” said Moore. “The abuser is losing control and control is what domestic violence is about.”
One of the things Alexandra House can do is help a woman come up with a safety plan if she decides it is time to leave an abusive partner.
“We don’t tell people what to do,” said Moore. “We never tell them, ‘you have to leave.’”
But an advocate can guide a woman to the resources needed to choose safety. That plan could include identifying places a woman can go if she needs to leave quickly, as well as suggestions for phone numbers to keep on hand at all times, packing a getaway bag and getting her finances in order.
Moore said people might not understand how difficult, and complicated, it can be for a woman to leave an abusive relationship.
Last year Alexandra House provided services to more than 3,000 people a combination of shelter, support, counseling and crisis care.
“We provide a lot of services to families who have never come into shelter,” said Moore.
She said the most important thing is that women know they have somewhere to go for help.
“People need to know there’s help out there for them with our 24-hour crisis line,” said Moore. “You can call and talk to somebody and to do that they don’t even have to tell us their name.”
Her definition of success is defined by that act of asking for help.
“What if you never made that phone call? To me it is a success that you reached out, because that in itself is scary,” said Moore.
It’s true some women leave and go back to their abuser multiple times.
“Every time you are just one step farther in your journey to a safer and healthier life,” said Moore.
The shelter’s capacity is 35 people, often a close to even split between women and children. The average length of stay is 18 days, according to the most recent data, said Moore. While in shelter, women can get assistance to find long-term housing as well as help finding out what kind of public assistance they might qualify for. There are classes in career development and help with writing resumes.
It is the only program of its kind to provide these services in Anoka County.
Support groups operate throughout the community. Alexandra House can help with the filing of protection orders, emergency shelter or help women navigate going forward as many victims are tied to their abusers through children.
“He’s not going to go away, just because you made the decision to leave,” said Moore.
As technology advances, so do the opportunities for abusers to stalk and monitor women. Victims are harassed via social networking or text. Some abusers even go as far as tracking their victims with GPS.
Moore said domestic and sexual violence permeates all of our lives in ways we don’t even realize.
It shows itself in lost productivity or excessive absences at work and kids who live with domestic violence often have trouble learning or are disruptive themselves in the classroom.
Alexandra House is hoping to stop the abuse before it starts.
Advocates working in schools in the Anoka-Hennepin, Centennial, Spring Lake Park and Fridley school districts, helping adolescents learn about healthy relationships.
Controlling behavior or extreme jealousy can often show up in teen relationships and can be a precursor to escalating violent behavior.
One in four teens will experience abuse in a dating relationship by the age of 18, according for the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. Department of Justice also reports that young women, ages 16 to 24, experience the highest rates of relationship violence.
“It makes sense to address that behavior, to talk about what healthy relationships are about, to try to stop the problems before they start,” said Moore.
Need for volunteers
For Alexandra House to provide the level of support it does for victims of abuse, the organization relies heavily on volunteers.
There are volunteer opportunities for a variety of positions, including on-call hospital advocates who respond to victims of domestic and sexual violence at Mercy and Unity hospitals.
Alexandra House is also looking for volunteers to be shelter advocates, child care volunteers and kitchen volunteers.
Background checks will be conducted on all volunteers. Those wishing to work directly with abuse victims will be required to participate in 50 hours of training. The next training session starts in April.
Moore said they particularly need childcare volunteers, who are not required to go through such extensive training. She also said there is a great need to have men volunteer for the organization.
To reach Alexandra House, which provides a 24-hour crisis line and shelter, call 763-780-2330.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org