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Russell, WSU awarded 'Safer Community' kudos (12/11/2013)
By Chris Rogers
Bruises, scars, and relationships built on fear the marks of domestic and sexual violence are far too common, but a there are those who are working to repair the damage and stop the violence, one person at a time. The Women's Resource Center (WRC) recognized Goodview Police Chief Kent Russell and Winona State University's Gender Based Violence Program with its annual Creating a Safer Community Award for their work against domestic and sexual violence.

Russell and his department, like others in Winona County, have implemented the anti-domestic violence program Blueprint for Safety. Russell has been particularly committed to the program, attending meetings, overhauling Goodview Police Department policies, and dedicating his officers' and staff's time to domestic abuse trainings. When working with domestic abuse victims, WRC Executive Director Diana Miller explained, Russell and his department have been especially diligent in asking contextual questions. Things like how long the abuse has been going on, whether it has been getting worse, and whether threats have ever been made are key warning signs that more serious violence may be ahead in that relationship, Miller explained. It may seem like common sense, but being sure that officers ask those questions and document the answers goes a long way to reduce violence, the victims' advocate stated.

Russell said that responding to domestic abuse requires judgement, care, patience, and training. "Coming from the outside, it's easy to not understand what is going on" in a relationship or in an abusive situation, he said. It requires dedication on every call, and this award is for everyone in the department, he said.

At WSU, the Gender Based Violence Program was lauded for its Peer Advocacy and Education program. WSU Women's and Gender Studies Director Tamara Berg explained that the advocacy and education program "is really about peers talking to peers about dating violence, sexual violence, and stalking, with a focus on prevention." The program ran "Shatter the Silence" campaign this year, encouraging victims and their friends to report sexual and domestic violence. Like other campuses around the country, "we know we have an underreporting problem," said Berg. Her group also launched a peer victim advocacy hotline with the WRC that offers students a place to reach out for help.

Perhaps the most powerful thing the Gender Based Violence Program has been involved with, though, was the annual Take Back the Night event, said Berg. In that event, another WRC partnership, "we hear from those who were victims," Berg explained. "Hundreds of students have stood up and spoken out about these issues." That, she said, goes a long way to "changing the way young people think about intimate relationships."

Berg's program and the WRC were recently awarded a competitive, $300,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to boost their efforts at prevention, victim advocacy, and training responders. 


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