Family Violence Community Conversation

This is an amazing evening. I've had town meetings all around Minnesota and this is the first community that I have had a town meeting where representatives from just about every segment of the community have participated. I think they have been meeting for over a month to figure out exactly what the right forum would be. We have had so much interest and I think that what it does, it shows that this is a community that is really trying to figure out what is the right way to tell women and to tell children who live in their community, that this is a safe place for them, that there is no judgment about what is happening to them, that they are not to blame for what is happening to them, that it is not their fault. But as a community, you are coming together to support her and her children if she has them, as much as you can.

And I'll be talking tonight in terms of women and their children, but that is not to say that I don't realize that there also men who are victims of violence in their home. But 95-96% of the battering that does occur in the home, does occur with the woman and their children. So, when I do speak about women and their children tonight please do be aware that I am very well aware that the violence does happen to men as well.

When I first started to do this work, I quickly realized that the state of Minnesota is far ahead of the rest of the country. And even today, as I continue to travel and continue to meet with women, with advocates, with community members, I realize that we are still ahead of the country in what we are doing. I am on this advisory council and what we spent 4 years doing was to come up with a plan for communities. It was easy for me because our communities were already doing it. So your coming here tonight is just one more bit of evidence for me and proof that we are very far ahead of what is going on in the rest of the country. So, I thank you for that, I thank you for your interest. I thank you for coming maybe tonight also, to talk about and to ask the questions what domestic violence is. It is a very difficult topic to talk about and I want to particularly thank Sheena and Linda here tonight, because they are going to be here tonight telling their own personal stories. And I find that the most empowering thing that ever happens to me. I can hear stories, I can sit, I can speak, I can talk about what I hear. But I can never do it in a way a woman or a young woman, who has had the direct experience, who has been a victim of abuse, who has survived it. I cannot do justice to their stories.

I also learned that with domestic violence and sexual assault, there are no barriers. There are stereotypes that it only happens to women of color; that it only happens to women who are poor, that there are only certain of classes of women that this happens to. What I have found out is it does not matter what your political persuasion is, doesn't matter if you're highly educated you are, how wealthy you are, what color your skin, the language you speak, the religion you believe in, your sexual orientation. It does not discriminate. Women across the board are being battered and women across the board in our communities need to be listened to, need to be supported and need to know in their communities that they are safe.

I have also learned that this is not just something that happens in marriage. You are going to hear from Sheena tonight, the statistics are the same for young women who are in high school, who are in college, as many of those women are battered in their dating relationships as women who are battered in their marriage relationship. This is an area I don't think we really wanted to recognize, to realize young girls aged as young as 14, can be physically and emotionally abused by the person she is dating. What we need to do is talk to our young people, we need to work with them so that they understand what a healthy relationship is, they need to understand what a unhealthy relationship is, so that when they become parents themselves, it does not repeat the cycle within their marriage. What's happening to these children who are growing up in these homes is devastating. The children who witness the violence are in some of the same circumstances as those children who are physically beaten themselves. They have low self esteem, many of them drop out of school, many of them are troubled in school, many of them are having trouble learning, many of them become aggressive themselves or they completely withdraw, they have mental health issues that are associated with listening or watching their mom be beaten. They take on much of the blame themselves, if only I had cleaned my room, if only I had eaten my dinner, if only I hadn't been so loud, maybe daddy wouldn't beat mommy.

So still we have a long way to go and you being here tonight, and I know this community will continue to move forward after tonight, what you're saying is that you realize that and that you want to be a part of stopping the violence in the home that spills into the community, you want to be a part of working with these young children who experience violence in the home, that you want to be a part of healing the young girls, who in middle school and high school are being abused. You're sending an extraordinary message. There might be a woman in this audience tonight who is here and she has never told what has happened to her, but after listening to the panel and seeing all you in the room tonight, you being here maybe, or the woman who is watching it on cable TV, you being here tonight maybe that final bit of strength that she needs to say I am going to make myself safe, I am going to take the necessary steps, I am going to make my children safe. So what I am going to do before we hear from the panel, is to thank you for that woman or those women or those children who you’re sending the message to tonight, by your being here tonight giving her the very strength she needs to be safe, she won't be able to thank you, you'll never know that you did it. But your being here tonight is extremely important, its extraordinarily empowering and I want to thank you for taking the time away from your family, away from other things you could have done tonight, to come here, to listen to the stories, to talk with your community and try to figure out what the next steps are that you can take, so thank you so very much for being here tonight.

April 4, 2002