My Point of View: Mothers and children should feel safe at home

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.

Domestic violence affects all communities, of every size, across the country and around the globe. In Minnesota, about 65,000 people reach out for help each year. This represents a fraction of those who experience abuse, and the violence indirectly impacts many more.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

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Sometimes that violence escalates into murder. Last year in Minnesota, at least 18 women were killed by domestic partners, as well as at least three of their children (one unborn) and a bystander. According to the 2016 Femicide Report released by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, another 14 children were left motherless, some of whom witnessed their mothers’ murders.

One of the women who was murdered had close ties to Freeborn County. Trisha Nelson, 28, was born in Albert Lea and raised in Alden. Her fiance shot her and then ran her down with a vehicle at an intersection in Plymouth, a year ago in February. She died of the combination of her injuries, and her fiance later died in a shootout with police. She had been in the process of breaking up with him, but she had wavered in part because he was emotionally controlling and had threatened to kill both himself and their pets.

To recognize these losses, many agencies that advocate for victims of domestic violence will gather at noon today, in communities across the state to read the names of people who died due to domestic violence last year. The Crime Victims Crisis Center of Freeborn County is one of the agencies taking part in these efforts, and Trisha’s sister Tanya Fure will speak. As the Albert Lea Tribune reported last week, the “CVCC will be one of over 80 organizations to participate in ‘It Happens Here,’ and Freeborn County courthouse courtroom two, will be one of 25 events happening simultaneously at noon across the state.”

Our community has some valuable resources to help people who experience domestic violence. The CVCC is in the Freeborn County courthouse and serves victims of crime, domestic abuse and sexual abuse. It connects people with services and assistance. This is a great agency to support.

Our community could also improve. Women in rural communities often face additional barriers to leaving abusers, including physical isolation, fewer services, lack of anonymity and increased presence of firearms. This came as a surprise to me several years ago, but Freeborn County doesn’t have a domestic shelter yet. The closest ones are in Mankato and Rochester and are often full. The Five Sisters Project is in the process of opening a shelter a little closer in Wells. Because of the distance to these shelters and the ties local women have to jobs, schools and family in Freeborn County, it would be very helpful to have a domestic shelter in Albert Lea as well. Please support efforts to get this underway.

State laws can also be helpful. Many laws that pertain to housing, child care, employment, transportation, guns and healthcare impact the safety of people experiencing domestic violence. For example, it’s a Minnesota law that tenants have the right to make unlimited calls for help to 911 without facing eviction or fines. This is not the case for women in many cities with “nuisance tenant” ordinances, including some communities in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. What this means is that women in these locations may have to choose between calling for help or keeping their homes. In Minnesota, these laws are illegal.

More than half of domestic homicides in Minnesota involve a firearm, and abused women have a five times greater chance of being killed by an intimate partner if they own a firearm. Minnesota law helps protect people from gun violence related to domestic abuse, and it requires removal or surrender of firearms from individuals subject to domestic abuse or child abuse protective orders for the duration of the order.

Minnesota could protect women further by requiring background checks on all gun sales. In the 18 states that have enacted this measure, substantially fewer women — 46 percent — are killed by abusers. Rep. Tony Cornish, as head of the House public safety committee, blocked such legislation introduced last year, even though polls have consistently shown that Minnesotans strongly favor closing loopholes on gun purchases. This includes majorities of Republicans and gun owners.

Mostly we have moved forward on the issue of domestic violence, but we can’t take that progress for granted. Incredibly, earlier this year Russia’s parliament voted to decriminalize domestic violence that isn’t a repeat offense and doesn’t cause serious bodily harm.

Home is where we should feel safest, but for women and children it’s one of the most dangerous places. Domestic violence is a crime, and we as community members can all do something to intervene.