Rosenblum: Domestic abuse expert's advice: 'Ask to help'

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 16, 2013 - 4:44 PM

Bob Olson witnessed plenty of heartache in his 24 years as a police officer specializing in domestic abuse cases. But even Olson says the first part of 2013 has been “out of the ordinary.”

Olson was referring to three Twin Cities women, all missing, with the men in their lives the primary suspects. Mandy Matula, 24, disappeared May 2 after taking off in a car with boyfriend David M. Roe. Roe later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to police.

Kira Trevino, 30, of St. Paul, has been missing since Feb. 21, when she was last seen leaving the Mall of America with her husband. Danielle Jelinek, 28, of Oakdale, has been missing since Dec. 9. She was last seen at the home of a man whom she had dated sporadically.

The number of high-profile cases is unusual, Olson said, as is “the fact that we’re not finding their bodies.”

As the grim searches continue, Olson encourages all of us to become active participants in the effort to stop this madness. How?

By asking to help.

“Ask To Help,” in fact, is a new initiative developed by Cornerstone, a Twin Cities agency offering support and resources to end domestic violence. Olson, retired from the Eden Prairie police force, now works full time with Cornerstone to help implement the Ask To Help model, which has received funding from the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs.

The initiative’s message: We can no longer expect law enforcement officials to end domestic violence alone. It’s our responsibility, too.

Olson knows this isn’t an easy concept to sell. Families and close friends are frequently kept in the dark about how dangerous a relationship has become. Or they feel inadequate to deal with something this complex. Or they simply do not know how to broach this painful subject without causing further shame or fear in their loved one.

“Domestic violence is so personal,” said Olson, who formed Eden Prairie’s Domestic Abuse Response Team and was co-creator of the Blueprint for Safety, a statewide response to domestic abuse.

“You need to approach them with concern,” Olson said. But, please, Olson asks, do approach them.

The Ask to Help website offers calming and constructive advice, including a list of specific questions we can ask our sisters, friends and co-workers when our gut tells us that we should be concerned.

“Really, how are you?” “Are you safe?” “Do you need to talk?” “Can I offer you some resources?”

Equally important is what not to say, which the outreach effort also addresses. Among well-meaning, but potentially damaging statements: “I can’t believe, of all people, you would be a victim of domestic violence.” Such statements only add to a victim’s shame and may lead her to shut down.

Far better is to say something like, “There are people out there who can help and give you information. I can sit with you while you call them.”

Olson also is working to educate family members, friends and co-workers about risk factors long known to public safety officials. Included are individuals with a history of violence against women, those who have violated protection orders or have substance abuse problems. Some show extreme jealousy or stalking behavior, or send unwanted gifts.

The biggest risk factor, though, is one we are understanding with tragic frequency, Olson said. “It’s when the relationship is in the process of breaking up or one party is trying to permanently terminate the relationship.”

Still, any one of these risk factors is enough to get involved, he said, and offer nonjudgmental support.

“If you see something that causes you concern, approach the person directly,” Olson said. “I’ve had numerous occasions where a woman in an extremely abusive relationship got help and the abuse stopped, all because an officer asked the questions.”

Sometimes, women ask themselves the question. About seven years ago, he spoke to a group of Eden Prairie chaplains, challenging them to deliver a sermon on domestic violence. Three months later, Olson was called to a home for a domestic disturbance. As he and the woman, in her 30s, sat in her living room, she told Olson that she’d been to church and her pastor had talked about domestic violence.

“Was he talking about me?” she wondered. Because of his words, she reached out or help, and got it.

Chuck Derry, director of the Gender Violence Institute in Clearwater, Minn., commends the initiative and hopes it’s not just women who ask to help.

“It is a minority of men who are doing the abuse, but men who batter rely on the silence of other men,” Derry said. “That’s a big message for me. We’re working with men, encouraging men, and they’re slowly stepping up. This is not an individual problem.

“Three women in the last five months is a community problem. ”

 

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com 612-673-7350

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