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Candle ceremony remembers victims killed in domestic violence

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Adam Carlson pushes a vigil candle into the Mississippi River, symbolizing one of the 21 deaths from domestic violence in 2016 in Minnesota. Shannon Wussow, executive director of the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center, said hosting the domestic violence awareness event every year is important in keeping the issue at the forefront for the community. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video2 / 2

Twenty-one vigil candles—each one representing a victim killed in a domestic violence incident in 2016 in Minnesota—were lit Tuesday night and released into the Mississippi River at Kiwanis Park in Brainerd.

Of the 21 victims killed, 18 were women, two were children and one was a man. Victims were as young as 10-year-old Nahily Ronquillo to as old as 85-year-old Beverly Miller.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and each year, the Mid-Minnesota Women's Center in Brainerd hosts the floating candle vigil to remember those killed in a domestic violence incident.

Shannon Wussow, executive director of the women's center, said hosting the domestic violence awareness event is important in keeping the issue at the forefront for the community.

"One of the biggest things in keeping our community safe and healthy is making sure problems like this are addressed," Wussow said.

During the event, law enforcement officials—Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston, Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted, Crosby Police Chief Kim Coughlin, Lt. Kevin Randolph with the Crosby Police Department and Capt. Scott Goddard with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office—helped read each of the names and spoke about domestic violence in front of about 50 people who came to support the fallen.

"Each year we pledge to remember those who have died from domestic violence," McQuiston said. "It is important for all of us to know that at least 70 women, children and men have been murdered in the state of Minnesota since January of 2015."

"Keeping the victims of domestic violence safe and holding batterers accountable is the responsibility of the entire community," Randolph said. "Domestic violence does not just affect the immediate families who are victimized, it affects the quality of life for all of us."

Exsted read the "Community Pledge of Nonviolence," which includes to be respectful to oneself and others, to communicate better, to listen, to forgive and to be courageous.

"Making peace must start within us and in our community," Exsted said. "Each of us, members of the lakes area community, commits ourselves as best we can to become nonviolent and peaceable people, ... eliminating violence, one community member at a time."

"We come here to recognize one of the more tragic parts of our society," Goddard said after the vigil. "It really hits home. We share their name, their age. It helps it makes it much more personal than just seeing a name in the newspaper or a blip on the first five minutes on the news. They can associate how violent domestic violence can be."

Goddard said domestic violence calls the sheriff's office receives are the more high priority calls deputies respond to. Goddard said domestic violence impacts everyone.

"It's dangerous, for the victim, to the children and the family and also for us," Goddard said. "It's one of the more volatile situations we walk into. Emotions are very high. Whether we are intervening and trying to separate someone from a verbal argument or in a case where an assault took place and we are wrestling the abuser and removing him from the situation. It's very trying on family members and kids who are watching (the abuse)."

Coughlin said the annual event is important to honor those hurt or killed by domestic violence. She said even if this event helps one person get out of their domestic violence situation, it's worth it.

Troy Schreifels, who has been on the women's shelter board of directors for two-and-a-half years, said it's important for the community to be aware of the problems of domestic violence. He said the candle vigil is a nice way for the community to honor the victims killed by domestic violence and to support each other.

History of women's center

The Mid-Minnesota Women's Center in Brainerd is a safe refuge for women and their children fleeing from domestic violence. Last year, the women's center provided shelter to 107 women and 90 children. It also provided assistance to 625 battered women and 176 children who did not stay in the shelter.

The women's center provides women and their children 24-hour emergency shelter, physical safety, personal advocacy, information and referral, support groups and community education, according to the shelter's website. The Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center provides safe visits and exchanges for children.

In 1978, Louise Seliski wrote a grant through the Minnesota Department of Corrections to develop four battered women's shelters in the state, the website stated. Only two existed in the Twin Cities area at that point. The Legislature provided funding for two shelters and the Brainerd shelter became the fifth battered women's shelter in the state to open.

That first shelter, which opened to its first family in August 1978, was a large old home at 13th and Oak streets in southeast Brainerd. While the shelter was supposed to house six women and children, Seliski said often they had as many as 25 people staying there.

"I'd rather have a woman sleep on the floor than get herself killed," Seliski stated. In 1995, a new shelter was built in southeast Brainerd, which houses about 20 women and children at a time. It serves easily more than 130 women and about 100 children a year, as well as offering other programming to help these families get back on their feet, the center reported. The shelter operates 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The child safety center opened in Brainerd in 2000 and typically facilitates about 1,200 supervised child visits per year.

National statistics on domestic abuse

• More than 1 in 3 Americans have witnessed an incident of domestic violence.

• More than 50 percent of all women will experience violence at least once in an intimate relationship; half of those will experience ongoing violence.

• Up to 50 percent of all homeless women and children in the U.S. are fleeing domestic violence.

• On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.

• One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.

• One in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

• One in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point at which they felt very fearful or believed they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.

• On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.

• The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent.

• Intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime.

• Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.

• Nineteen percent of domestic violence involves a weapon.

• Only 34 percent of people injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.

Minnesota statistics on domestic abuse

• In 2011, Minnesota courts adjudicated 27,288 cases of domestic violence.

• More than 80 percent of domestic violence victims in 2002 did not report the violence to Minnesota law enforcement.

• One in 3 homeless women in Minnesota is homeless because of domestic violence.

• In 2013, at least 26 women, seven men and six family members/friends in Minnesota were murdered in domestic violence homicides.

• In 2014, 56 percent of Minnesota domestic violence homicides were committed with firearms.

Is someone you know being abused?

• Listen to what she tells you.

• Believe her.

• Help her to see and build on her strengths.

• Validate her feelings.

• Avoid victim-blaming.

• Take her fears seriously.

• Offer help, but don't promise what you can't give.

• Be an active, creative partner in a woman's safety planning effort.

• Support her decisions.

• Suggest she call a battered women's shelter or program for additional information and support.

• Tell her that she deserves a life free from violence.

How do you know if you are being abused?

• Are you embarrassed or ridiculed by your partner in public?

• Does your partner use intimidation or threats to get you to go along with something?

• Is your partner physical with you, pushing, shoving or hitting?

• Does your partner attempt to control or restrict your activities?

• Does your partner blame you for the way he/she feels or acts?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, chances are you are a battered person.

(Source: Mid-Minnesota Women's Center and National Coalition Against Domestic Abuse)