One person, one family at a time
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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Rochester Women Magazine interviewed Jeannie Thompson, director of youth programming & outreach at the Women’s Shelter and Support Center in Rochester.

Why does Domestic Violence Awareness month exist? When did it start? 

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) evolved from the ‘Day of Unity’ in October 1981 observed by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children,” says Jeannie Thompson, director of youth programming and outreach at the Women’s Shelter & Support Center.

What is domestic violence?

The definition of domestic violence is “a pattern of abusive behavior used to gain and maintain power and control in an intimate relationship.” Abusive partners seek to gain power and control and, in the process, diminish their victim in every respect. Domestic violence is not only physical. The cycle of abuse begins with jealous statements, emotional and verbal abuse. Then it escalates through having control over who has access to the victim by eliminating friends and family from having access to the victim and isolating them from the everyday support systems.  

“A domestic violence relationship becomes physically or sexually violent when less severe tactics don’t achieve the result the abuser wants. And each incident becomes more volatile and frequent as time goes on,” says Thompson.

Why is it important to bring awareness to domestic violence? 

Everyone is affected by domestic violence in some way.  Jeannie reminds us of the slogan, “Everyone knows someone,” whether the individual is a primary victim of domestic abuse or a secondary victim,  present during an assault or a close friend or a family member who is supporting the victim. Each year, one out of four women and one out in seven men are victims of domestic violence.

What resources exist in Rochester for victims of domestic violence? 

“The Women’s Shelter & Support Center has been providing domestic violence services to a 10-county area in Southeast Minnesota since the mid-1970s. Our services include a 24-hour crisis line; short-term emergency shelter; legal advocacy providing support to obtain protective orders; financial assistance to access economic support; transitional housing; and support groups,” says Thompson.

Providing shelter is only a third of the services the Women’s Shelter provides. The other two-thirds of  services  provided are resources to those they serve out in the community, so that support and options are in place before the critical need for shelter arises. 

How does the Women’s Shelter help connect of violence to resources?

Thompson says, “We network and partner with many community programs and agencies to be able to best serve those in need.”  

What is your personal vision to end domestic violence?

“I have been working in the domestic violence field for over 30 years. I have seen great progress for victims that access services to recover from their domestic violence experiences and re-create the lives they choose for themselves and their children. There are many success stories,” says Thompson. The funding has limits, and the shelter only has so many beds. Housing is terribly expensive, and transportation is not always available. Caring for the children is a struggle. These are all barriers that add challenges for survivors of domestic violence.

“We still have a long way to go in eliminating domestic violence. These patterns of abuse are deeply ingrained in our society and in our families,” says Thompson. 

Is it possible to end domestic violence? Thompson says, “I know that throughout my career I have watched survivors and their children recover and flourish, eliminating cycles of violence in their own lives. So, yes, I believe it’s possible. One person, one family at a time.”

The Women’s Shelter & Support Center uses so many resources. Some of them include:

Rochester Police Department
Olmsted County Sheriff
Olmsted County Social Services
Workforce Development
Legal Aid of Olmsted County
MN Adult & Teen Challenge
Family Service Rochester
Lutheran Social Services
Three Rivers
UMR Nursing Program
Luther Nursing Program
Mayo Medical Interns
Zumbro Valley Medical Center
Rochester Public Schools
Salvation Army
St. Vincent de Paul
Olmsted County Victim Services
Families First
Planned Parenthood

Advice from someone who was able to escape an abusive relationship: Always have a bag/ backpack packed with some clothing, any medication, some money and any important documents. Be ready to get out when you are able.

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