Anti-violence program aims to ‘catch fire’

University alumna Janet Hagberg has a vision.
Hagberg, who obtained a master’s degree in social work in 1972 from the University, is the co-director of the Silent Witness National Initiative, a Minnesota-based grassroots organization aimed to reduce the number of domestic violence murders to zero by the year 2010.
“I believe it’s possible,” said Hagberg, “but it’s going to take more than me. It will have to catch fire like MADD did.”
MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, reduced teenage drunk driving fatalities by 64 percent in 12 years. Hagberg said she thinks those kinds of results are possible for reducing murders due to domestic violence, as well.
The program was founded in 1990 when a group of local female artists and writers decided to do something about the escalating domestic violence in their state.
The group created the first Silent Witnesses — 26 free-standing wood silhouette figures, each painted red and bearing the name of a woman whose life ended violently at the hands of a husband, ex-husband, partner or acquaintance. Another figure was added later to represent the uncounted victims.
The figures have been on display in more than 175 locations across the country. Hagberg’s efforts with the statues have inspired duplicate programs in 47 states.
While the Silent Witnesses have been a powerful tool for raising awareness about domestic violence murders, Hagberg and a few project supporters decided to take the initiative to the next level.
In 1994, the project created a five-part process to eliminate domestic violence murders altogether. Similar processes have an 87 percent success rate.
“This movement is about healing,” said Hagberg. “We are not man-haters. I believe that abuse stems from self-loathing that comes out in other ways.”
The initiative also works directly with law enforcement officials, from police officers to prosecutors. This interactive law enforcement pilot is exclusive to Minneapolis, yet took cues from other programs in other states.
“We bring these people together to talk about the problem, and we don’t let the problem out of the room,” said Hagberg. “We want them to take protection seriously, to keep going back.”
A similar program that coordinates law enforcement with programs that are proven to reduce domestic violence have been in place in Quincy, Mass., for 10 years. The city of 300,000 has been free of domestic violence murder since the program began. Seattle has also enjoyed success with the Quincy model.
Hagberg said she speaks of these success stories triumphantly, with genuine hope and determination that these victories over domestic violence can be replicated exponentially.
Besides her work with the program, Hagberg is also an author and a public speaker. She has been dedicated to community service, family counseling, volunteering with women inmates and is a certified spiritual director.
Her speeches are based on “soul leadership,” a concept Hagberg describes as “a willingness to be something other than what the world wants you to be. A soul leader faces and moves into their fears and finds courage.”
Aside from the public speaking engagements, she has left other endeavors behind to concentrate on the Silent Witness National Initiative.
“This is my spiritual calling, to do this healing process,” said Hagberg. “I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful. I would have never known 10 years ago that this domestic violence murder issue would become my passion.”
Last Thursday, Hagberg received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the University Board of Regents during the College of Human Ecology award luncheon.
“I was in total disbelief,” said Hagberg. “It’s amazing to me for such a huge university to recognize this … I have much respect for the U and really value the education I got there.”
The award is the highest honor given to alumni for outstanding work in any professional field. But for Hagberg, the gratification of the award does not compare to the gratification of seeing the Silent Witness National Initiative take hold.
“This is so much bigger than me,” Hagberg said. “It keeps my ego in line.”