Advocates work to end domestic violence

To date, seventeen women and one child have died from domestic violence in Minnesota this year.

Chelsie Hanstad

The University’s Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education will participate for the first time in a national program to commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October.

The Silent Witness Project uses a display of free-standing, life-sized wooden figures painted red – one for each woman in Minnesota who died from domestic violence in 2002 – to raise awareness about domestic violence.

“The goal of the Silent Witness Project is to have zero domestic violence murders by 2010,” said Melissa Schmidt, legal advocacy and direct services coordinator for the Aurora Center.

The Silent Witness Project began in Minnesota in 1990 when a group of women became upset about the increasing number of Minnesota women being murdered by their partners, according to the Silent Witness Web site.

The group decided to make 26 figures, one for each woman who died due to domestic violence in 1990, and a 27th figure that represented women whose murders went unsolved or whose deaths were deemed accidental. In February 1991, they took the figures – called “silent witnesses” – to the State Capitol and displayed them in the Rotunda. Soon the project spread to all 50 states and 20 other countries.

Last year, 16 women and 13 children were killed as a result of domestic violence in Minnesota, according to a 2002 Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women report.

“Domestic violence is everyone’s concern,” said Randy Schubring, director of communications and public affairs for the Tubman Family Alliance, a local organization that sees approximately 2,000 victims each year in shelters and helps another 2,000 with legal services.

“As neighbors, relatives and co-workers, if we see something in someone’s personal relationship we can ask, ‘Are you in a healthy relationship?’ No one thinks twice about taking someone’s car keys away if they’ve had too much to drink,” she said.

The Aurora Center will display its own witnesses on the front plaza of Coffman Union on Oct. 7, 8 and 9. There will be 18 of them this year – 17 women and one child.

The Aurora Center provides free advocacy and education for victims of assault. It offers advocacy services over the telephone or on a walk-in basis.

Advocates accompany victims through hospitals or sexually-transmitted-disease checks, Schmidt said. They also help with legal issues, such as filing sexual harassment charges or helping victims get restraining orders, according to the Aurora Center Web site.

Staff and volunteers provide prevention training and education on issues relating to sexual and relationship violence.