Domestic violence is a public safety issue

Published 11:46 am Monday, December 8, 2008

(Editor’s Note: This concludes a two-part series examining violence issues. The Austin chapter of Zonta International is observing a “16 Days — Violence Against Women” awareness effort ending Dec. 10. Today’s contributors are Heather Steinkamp, director of the new Michael Seibel Family Visitation and Child Exchange Center and Liliana Silvestry, executive director of the Welcome Center, Inc.)

Community resource

By Heather Steinkamp

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Increased attention has been focused on violence in public places.

It is now nearly commonplace to hear and read of devastating school violence.

The public displays of violence do not go unnoticed. They reach the consciousness of the media, the community and, on an individual level, they cause alarm as we question our perception of safety in an increasingly more violent world.

Many of us may think of public places as dangerous, but rarely do we think of home as a place of danger.

Violence that goes on behind closed doors in homes against a spouse or a child known as domestic violence often goes unnoticed by the media, neighbors and co-workers. Domestic violence is a public safety issue that occurs in every culture, country and age group.

It affects people from all socioeconomic, educational and religious backgrounds and takes place in same sex as well as heterosexual relationships.

Children are also affected by domestic violence, even if they do not witness it directly.

Children’s socialization with respect to relationships and conflict resolution is negatively affected by exposure to a perpetrator of domestic violence. For example, when children witness one parent inflicting abuse upon the other or using threats of violence to maintain control within a relationship, their own expectations about relationships may come to parallel these observations.

The potential of violence in a batterer’s subsequent intimate relationships represents a threat that children’s exposure to poor modeling will continue.

Victims of domestic violence may be undermined in their parenting role. Perpetrators of domestic violence may undermine their (ex-) partners’ parenting in ways both obvious and insidious.

For example, batterers may blame the children’s mother for the dissolution of the family or explicitly instruct the children not to listen to her directions.

Intervention with these fathers requires that this facet of their parenting be addressed; fathers need to both recognize the ways in which they undermine their children’s mother and commit to stopping these behaviors.

Abuse does not end with separation. Research has shown that physical abuse, stalking, and harassment continue at significant rates post separation and may even become more severe. This research shows the need and importance of visitation and exchange centers such as the Michael Seibel Family Visitation and Exchange Center located at 105 1st Street SE in Austin Minnesota.

A supervised visitation and exchange center is a safe setting in which custodial and non-custodial parents may visit with their children, or for the exchange of children by and between parents.

The types of situations that may require the use of the center include parents involved in domestic violence, Orders For Protection, Harassment Orders, or divorcing parents who have conflict. In most cases, the parents will be court ordered to use the center, or referred through other legal action. Some families may self-refer – these cases involve non-custodial parents who have visitation rights and no local place to visit or safely exchange for the visit.

Supervised Visitation Centers, such as the Seibel Center, work with the entire community to get input and feedback on important information so that the safety of the adult victims and children is maintained while providing a respectful place for both parents to have interactions, with out having to see one another. This type of coordinated community response program also often engages the entire community in efforts to change the social norms and attitudes that contribute to domestic violence. For more information on the Michael Seibel Family Visitation and Exchange Center call 507-434-7550.

VAW Act helps


BY LILIANA Silvestry,

executive director,

Welcome Center, Inc.

Domestic Violence has come to be recognized as a social, legal, and public health issue with serious consequences for all members of our society regardless of age, ethnicity, social class, level of education, income, or occupation.

Over the years, advocates have responded with a range of violence intervention programs and services aimed to reaching and overcome the problem.

The women’s movement has come a long way in raising public awareness about the problem, in protecting women and children, and in holding batterers accountable. But we also know that much needs to be done.

Many programs ranging from shelters, to prevention and treatment programs, fall short of meeting the multiple needs of a growing multicultural population; the Latino population being one of the largest group.

There is often a lack of adequate outreach, including linguistically and culturally appropriate and reader-friendly material informing of existing services and rights to receive those services. Programs and institutions also lack bilingual/bicultural personnel who understand and are sensitive to the cultural values or circumstances of Latino families.

Service providers may also lack familiarity with immigration laws and the rights of immigrant survivors.

The lack of sensitivity and knowledge among service providers about the cultural dynamics of the women and families they serve results in discrimination, alienating and re-victimizing the very people they intend to assist and support.

Victims also encounter diverse challenges and barriers that hinder them from accessing the services they so desperately need.

These barriers may include: Isolation, threats and intimidation by the batterers, lack of financial resources, lack of family or community support, and a general lack of awareness about what options and services are available to them.

In addition to these barriers, Latinas and women from other racial groups have to contend with other factors that prevent them from accessing services, including a lack of English proficiency, and specific needs and risk factors that are often not understood or taken into account by service providers.

Among them are social, economic, religious/spirituality, and immigration matters, family background and individual experiences.

Sadly our rural communities are also confronting the same issues as the rest of the state and the nation and numbers are increasing.

Although we have the Crime Victim Center and the recently opened Seibel Visitation and Child Exchange Center, our community still lacks bilingual/bicultural services which requires us to refer victims to La Casa de Esperanza in St. Paul or to IMAA in Rochester if a language barrier is identified.

The women and men assisted by the Welcome Center are from different countries with the majority being from Mexico, Guatemala and Sudan. They ranged in age from 19 to 39, with the largest percentage being between 20 and 36 years of age.

The majority of Latinas had low educational levels and some cannot read or write neither Spanish nor English.

For other women of different ethnic groups, the language proficiency is also low to none.

One of the barriers faced by women, when seeking help, include fear that the abuser would harm them or their children, being reported to immigration and being deported if they were brought illegally to this country and the prospect of losing all contact with their children or that the abuser will hire someone to hurt their family or that the children will be abducted from the victim.

In 1994 and 2000 Congress included in the Violence Against Women Act immigration provisions designed to remove obstacles inadvertently interposed by immigration laws that prevent immigrant victims from safely fleeing domestic violence and prosecuting their abusers.

VAWA 2000 extended immigration relief to immigrant victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and other violent crimes who agree to cooperate in criminal investigations or prosecutions. A key goal of VAWA’s immigration protections is to cut off the ability of abusers, traffickers and perpetrators of sexual assault to blackmail their victims with threats of deportation, and thereby avoid prosecution.

VAWA allows immigrant victims to obtain immigration relief without their abusers’ cooperation or knowledge. Congress understood if we are to stop violence against women, all victims need protection and assistance without regard to their immigration status.

For more information visit the VAWA and Casa de Esperanza web sites or contact the Welcome Center directly: 308 Fourth Avenue Northwest or 507 434-2863.