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Participants walked along Broadway in Alexandria during the annual Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence Walk on Tuesday. (Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson)

When home hurts: Domestic violence awareness in Alexandria

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A step in the right direction, and another, and another. Citizens, victims and survivors of domestic violence led the sixth annual Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence walk through Alexandria on Tuesday to raise awareness of the crime.

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Event organizers said it may have been a record turn-out with an estimated 300 participants. Domestic violence advocate and survivor Connie Nelson spoke following Tuesday's walk.

This year 31 purple silhouettes and three teddy bears stood prominently at the front of a candlelit room during the traditional Domestic Abuse Awareness Luncheon held at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center on Wednesday.

Thirty-four people died in Minnesota in 2011 as a result of domestic violence. Shaken babies, stabbing, shooting and strangulation were listed as causes of death. In many cases, the assailants committed suicide after executing the killings.

"[Violence] fractures and cripples our precious families," said Pastor Scott Keehn in his invocation preceding the speakers.

Ceremoniously, Someplace Safe advocate Susan Keehn and Al Godfrey with United Communities Advocating Non-Violence (UCAN) read the names of those who did not survive while a lone candle burned symbolizing their lives - a flame later extinguished to represent their passing.

In 2011, 560 citizens in Douglas County received services related to domestic violence from Someplace Safe. October has been proclaimed Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Douglas County. Susan Keehn presented the proclamation, adopted by the county commissioners, which stated that children from violent homes are at a higher rate for drug and alcohol abuse, juvenile delinquency and developmental problems.

Susan Keehn has been instrumental in organizing the Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence walk and is a long-time member of UCAN. Alexandria Mayor H. Dan Ness presented her with the Mayor's Peace Award at the luncheon and she received a standing ovation.

"I am deeply touched for this award and very humbled," Keehn said. "None of us can do it alone."

Keehn expressed gratitude to the community and admiration that so many have stepped out and taken a risk to make a change in the community.

A NATIONAL CRUSADE

The luncheon's keynote speaker has gone beyond making changes in his community; he has transformed Nashville, Tennessee.

Lieutenant Mark Wynn, national trainer and domestic violence survivor, spoke of how he helped develop the largest domestic violence investigation unit in a U.S. police department.

As a child, Wynn experienced first-hand the effects of violence in the home.

"We lived in a house covered in blood," Wynn said.

At 7-years-old he saw his step-father throw his mother from a moving vehicle on the highway. It was at that moment that his life changed.

Wynn pursued a career in law enforcement. Police departments were very different when he began, a poor system, in his description. He was discouraged from moving forward with addressing issues of domestic violence, but he persevered. Wynn said we are fighting a war of changing a culture that says a woman is less of a human.

In 18 months the same number of people who died in the 9/11 attack will be lost to domestic violence, Wynn said. He likened the act of domestic violence to acts of terrorism.

Wynn is the recipient of 121 commendations and 51 awards and certificates including the 1995 National Improvement of Justice Award, the 1998 Nashvillian of the Year Award and the 2012 Family Justice Center Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award.

Wynn said Minnesota is a "well-spring for ideas" in the domestic violence awareness movement and the state helped provide inspiration on "how to do it right." He commended Alexandria for being a cohesive community. At the conclusion of his speech, Wynn was made an honorary UCAN member.

A COMMUNITY UNITED

Master of Ceremonies Chuck Nettestad with UCAN appealed to the luncheon audience to become involved in the local committees. Currently the UCAN youth committee and Men's Action Network are in need of volunteers.

Someplace Safe has organized a free women's self-defense course on October 24 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. with Schutz Tae Kwon Do Academy in Alexandria. The course is designed to educate women on avoiding violent situations. To register or for more information, call (320) 761-9008 or e-mail mrjosh.waltzing@gmail.com.

Someplace Safe can be contacted by calling (320) 762-1995 or visiting www.someplacesafe.info. The agency also has a 24-hour hotline, (800) 974-3359.

The walk and the luncheon were hosted by Someplace Safe, Wings Family Supportive Services and UCAN.

Additional support was provided by Alexandria Area Community Foundation, Alexandria Sertoma, Thrifty White Drug, Runestone Electric Community Trust: Operation Roundup, Henry's Foods, Subway, Viking Coke, Douglas County Deputy Sheriff's Federation, Douglas County Hospital, Alexandria Clinic, Heartland Orthopedic Specialists and United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. A. Sebastian Fox provided the silhouettes.

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

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Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

(320) 763-1233
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