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Cali Owings, Published June 29 2013

Coach’s resignation shines light on domestic violence in region

MOORHEAD – The high-profile resignation of a high school hockey coach here is bringing attention to the issue of domestic violence in the community.

Peter Cullen, the head boys hockey coach at Moorhead High School, resigned Wednesday after a complaint filed with the district revealed his history of being investigated for domestic assault, though he was never convicted.

Erin Prochnow, director of the Cass-Clay YWCA reiterated that while Cullen’s case has received a lot of media attention, thousands of women and children are victims of domestic abuse each year.

In 2012, at least 18 men, women and children in Minnesota died as a result of domestic violence, according to a report from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

Of the 160 women and children who are currently staying in the YWCA’s emergency shelter and transitional housing facilities, 71 percent are victims of domestic violence, Prochnow said.

The Cullen case provides an opportunity to talk about domestic violence in the community and encourage people to work to eradicate the issue, said Greg Diehl, director of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. “(It) reminds us that domestic violence is an all-pervasive problem in our community that affects individuals at every level,” he said.

For many years, advocates and law enforcement officers have fought the notion that domestic violence is a private issue that doesn’t warrant intervention from friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

“For domestic violence to be eradicated, society, culture as a whole has to say it’s not going to be tolerated anymore,” Diehl said.

Domestic abuse has real consequences for communities because of its costs for health care, lost productivity of workers and incarceration, he said.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found intimate partner violence in the U.S. costs more than $5.8 billion a year. The majority of that expense is medical and mental health services.

In 2011 Fargo police, the RACC and Prairie St. John’s Hospital began running a campaign spreading the idea that domestic violence is everyone’s business.

“Anybody who is friends with somebody who is doing this kind of stuff, what kind of friend are you if you stand by and let it happen?” Fargo police detective Chris Nichtern said.

Nichtern, who serves as the domestic violence officer for the Fargo police, said he’s noticed more third-party reports of domestic violence recently – an indication that people are increasingly viewing it as a community, not private, matter. That attitude is also reflected in the courts. Incidents of domestic violence are actually charged as crimes against the state, or the community, not against a single victim. This way, domestic violence convictions do not rely as much on the testimony of victims who are often reluctant to press charges for many reasons like not wanting to go through the invasiveness of a trial or fear of retaliation.

For a myriad of reasons, many victims feel they cannot leave their abuser, Prochnow said.

“When they enter our doors, their self-esteem is at a point that it’s so low oftentimes that part of our initial work with them is to tell them they are worth it,” she said.

People who are experiencing domestic abuse are often hesitant to come forward because of how they’ll be perceived.

When a victim comes forward or a history of abuse is brought to light, people ask “Why didn’t she just leave?” Diehl said. But it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Leaving is next to impossible in some cases because it could escalate the violence – resulting in the death or further injury of the victim, a child, an intervener or pets, Prochnow said.

They are also tied to abusers in many ways – finances, children, living arrangements and – not least of all – love.

“Until you’re in that place it’s pretty difficult to say that’s exactly what you’d do,” Diehl said.

If you or someone you know is being abused, help is available. See the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center’s website at www.raccfm.com or call (701) 293-7273.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599