Guest column: Overcoming domestic violence not easy path

Published 8:45 pm Friday, October 27, 2023

Guest column by Joel Erickson

At a recent Albert Lea City Council meeting Rachel Christiansen, a city councilor, pointed out that her and others were wearing purple as part of a nationwide effort to highlight October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month as declared by President Biden. Then later Sherri Rasmussen, also a city councilor, picked up on Rachel’s point. Sherri forthrightly shared that for six years she was in and out of women’s shelters. This news was a surprise to everyone in the council chambers.

Joel Erickson

Domestic violence awareness is not about statistics. It’s about one person at a time who is shunned, belittled or berated. It’s about one person at a time wanting power and control over another person. Some victims lose their lives; others manage to escape the violence. Sherri Rasmussen sharing her experience of domestic violence calls for a response. Too much suffering under this violence beckons an open conversation in the light of day.

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“Moments after Joel Munt was arrested in the shooting death of his former wife, one of his three young children reportedly told a police officer: “Daddy killed Mommy.” The children were inside Svetlana Munt’s car when she was shot seven times, including once in the head, on Sunday morning at a Mankato, Minnesota, park,” as reported by Pioneer Press on March 10, 2010. At the time of her death, Svetlana was living in a Safe House and had decided to take her children to a local park. Joel Munt, 40, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in September 2011. (Serving as a pastor in Mankato at the time, I helped Svetlana get into the Safe House.)

The children survived but did they? What kind of an impact did this have on the children?

Statistics don’t tell the story. The tragedy of domestic violence was not something in the distance for Sherri. She had lived and breathed it much too long. And fortunately she is still breathing unlike Svetlana Munt, whose life ended tragically.

Sherri’s husband beat her many times. She reports, “I’m a meticulous housekeeper. And I remember one incident where I had literally not only cleaned the whole house, I had just waxed all the wood floors. Right? The house was perfect. But there was one fork in the sink. So when he came home he took every plant I had and threw them at the walls, pots shattering all over, all over the white carpet, dirt going all over, things flying by my head, and he beat the living crap out of me. Because it was a fork in the sink. You know, it was just, it was so unpredictable.

And that’s, I think that’s the thing that a lot of people don’t understand or realize is that it can be just because you’re there. Yes. It can just be because you are merely in the vicinity of that person. It has nothing to do with what happened, and so it really has nothing to do with people.”

Sherri showed courage in telling her story at the City Council meeting, and she gave her reason for telling it.

“You know, a lot of people don’t talk about it. And it’s surprising how many people experience it. The numbers are quite high. And I always feel like with any type of abuse, talking about it takes power away from it.”

It is a desperate feeling to be trapped by another person’s desire for power and control. If you observed a group of 10 women sitting together, based on statistics, you could be reasonably sure that three of them were under the duress of domestic violence. In some cases, at least one or two of those three wouldn’t realize that they were victims. Abuse would feel normal, almost expected because surely they were doing something wrong to be the object of their spouse’s anger and belittlement. The one abused begins to believe it is deserved on her part. She must be doing something wrong.

“He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever dated, a great Catholic Christian man from a good loving family. And he did not physically abuse me until our honeymoon,” Sherri remembers.

Yet her new husband beat her on their honeymoon. And she had no warning. Sherri was trapped for six years. One day she just left, disappeared, only three or four people knew where she was. She started her life all over. In the divorce she got nothing, an abrupt disappearance avoiding going to court was necessary for her survival. She feared for her life.

“A big part of it is psychological,” Sherri said, talking about abuse. “You know, it’s such a, it’s seen as such a shameful thing. You know, what did she do to deserve this? You know what, she must be a bad wife. Yes. You know, yeah, it’s just there’s so many negative stereotypes around the person that’s being abused, whether it’s the man or the woman, what are they doing to make this happen?”

One woman I knew as her pastor lived with an abusive husband who was always yelling or kicking things in the home. And it took her two years to gain the courage to end the relationship.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “Psychological abuse includes: Humiliating the victim; controlling what the victim can or cannot do; withholding information from the victim; deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed; isolating the victim from friends and/or family; Denying the victim access to money or other basic resources; stalking; demeaning the victim in public or in private; undermining the victim’s confidence and/or sense of self-worth; convincing the victim (s)he is crazy.”

Sherri Rasmussen is emphatic about women getting help. Too many people are desperately suffering from abuse, from violence.

“After I left my marriage, I actually started a support group for women. I started a support group for women to try to have a place for women to go to talk about what was going on. To find out where some of their sources were to feel safe to talk to somebody about what’s going on, and to maybe figure out a way to get out safely. And I did that for six years.” Walking the bridge of therapy and forgiveness, Sherri experienced healing. Forgiveness means letting go. It doesn’t mean what the abuser did was right. Forgiveness allowed Sherri to move on in life.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800.799.7233. Also the website is a tremendous resource.

Joel Erickson is an Albert Lea resident.