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Give To The Max

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The Official Hope Center Blog

We will win though

During the past weeks, our nation has been awash in the issue of sexual assault as the Kavanaugh hearings placed it front and center in the news and on social media. The nuances of all those stories are intimately familiar for me and for many survivors. In my personal life, in my work in the battered women’s movement, and in supporting friends, I have seen how domestic and sexual violence is repeatedly dismissed denied and minimized. I have known crushing victim-blaming. I have watched how families and communities protect perpetrators with such striking consistency that it seems they are following some kind of shared cultural script. As this plays out again on a national stage, it confirms and enforces an oppression that many of have experienced personally and vicariously.

It can feel hopeless, like nothing will change. It can feel like basic power over our own bodies can be denied while the community decides to look the other way.

This fight has been waged for a very long time now. Sometimes we move ahead, and sometimes we fall back, but looking over the course of generations, we have made progress against gender-based oppression. The battles change, the tactics change, and there are sometimes retreats or detours, but none of what we are facing today is new. Backlash is no surprise. The impressive power of some of our adversaries is no surprise. The exhaustion, suffering and defeat we may feel is no surprise.

Our strength is no surprise either. In the long haul of this battle, many of us learn how to become warriors. We don’t learn it through formal training but through the messy process of hitting our own limits and then somehow finding the resources to learn and keep living. We learn it by looking unflinchingly at the truth even when it is excruciating. We learn it because our continued existence depends on it.

I am not using that phrase lightly. We are confronting deadly stuff. Some of us die because of the injuries we received in domestic and sexual violence, and many are lost through suicide or the ongoing complications that come as a result of trauma. Some of us lose huge parts of our lives to addiction that we accidentally stumbled into as a coping mechanism. Some of us are pulled into the false safety of denial where our lives can never unfold in wholeness. Some of us retreat into silence and submission to stay safe. Through all of this, we keep fighting against the awful weight of it, adjusting our tactics to the situations that present themselves.

As someone who sees herself as a combatant in a war on women, I have been thinking for a long time about what courage means. It has been hard for me to see myself as courageous because I am a gentle person, and in my personal battles against domestic and sexual violence, I always felt completely overpowered. None of those pictures fit my image of a strong, brave warrior. Over time, I have begun to see courage as moving towards a powerful vision even when everything we see suggests that the vision is unworthy or out of reach. It means coming back to fight for the vision even after we feel that we have let ourselves or others down in some way. It means continuing to resist, even when our actions seem insignificant or when we know that our hopes may not be reached.

Many of us have earned the badge of courage, and we will continue to wear it. We will continue to use it because we have no choice. We will continue to fight for our human rights, and over the course of generations, I believe we will continue to win.

By Hope Center volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan

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When an abuser is someone we admire

When I was growing up, we watched the Cosby Show faithfully. Like many families, we felt like Bill Cosby was a family friend who shared our home every week and invited us into his own. He earned the nickname “America’s Dad.”

His recent conviction for sexual misconduct invites us to look at the way we see people who commit acts of domestic and sexual violence. Like Bill Cosby, most have talents and gifts. There are people who love them, and usually people who trust them. They are often dependable neighbors, beloved friends, or dear cousins. Most are not monsters.

Seeing perpetrators as monsters keeps our culture stuck in a system that supports abuse. If only monsters abuse, then nobody can believe that an abuser might look like the gentleman in church, or their co-worker, or their relative. When these regular, every-day people abuse, then their victims are often disbelieved, blamed and isolated. The victim is the one causing the problem, not the accused, because clearly the accused is not a monster.

Over and over, survivors report that when an abuser is respected in a community, people don’t want to “take sides.” It is impossible for community members to remain neutral in this situation because continuing to include an abuser in family or community events without some serious safeguards is going to exclude the victim. Taking no action supports the abuser. This kind of exclusion has probably happened to someone you know, or maybe it is happening to them right now.

It is far easier to stand up against abusers when there is distance between you and the person who has been abusive. Some people find a certain satisfaction in being outraged by abuse cases in the news because this reassures them that they are on the right side of history. Some of the same people find it extremely hard to extend that same outrage to people they have known and appreciated.

There is actually an element of humor to this. Over and over again, in the newspaper articles that appear after a domestic homicide, people bring up memories of the everyday interactions they had with the murderer. They will say things like, “He was always out there mowing his lawn, keeping it looking nice.” Or, “He was a nice, quiet neighbor who kept to himself.”

Certainly, having a neighbor unexpectedly kill someone would make a person reflect on the contrast between what they saw every day and the horror of a crime. This is a human thing to do in a traumatic situation. Still, the consistency with which these statements are repeated becomes more surreal with each passing year. It reflects a shared and problematic belief that regular, caring people do not commit horrific crimes. Except they do. People who abuse are real people who were often abused themselves, and who are often beloved. Sometimes they even keep their lawns looking nice.

By the very nature of the crime, the victims of domestic and sexual violence have no leverage to push their abusers towards change. The rest of the community sometimes has that leverage. We can use that leverage to demand change if we can accept the reality that abusers are sometimes people we love, and that one way of expressing that love is to cut through the deception and secrecy that usually surrounds abuse. We call out the best in people who are important to us, and we sometimes set limits with people to maintain our integrity and the safety of the most vulnerable.

Because abuse is so common, we inevitably know and probably admire people who have perpetrated domestic or sexual violence. Like Bill Cosby, these people may enrich our lives. When it comes to Bill Cosby I still appreciate his humor. I still remember the times my family sat together in the living room looking at an image of his face on TV and smiling. His gifts to us were real. I hope one of his gifts to our culture will be that when we face allegations of abuse within our own beloved communities, we will think of Cosby, remember that most people who abuse do not look like monsters, and then take action to support survivors.

Written by HOPE Center Volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan

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Remembering Barbara Jean…

Barbra Jean

Remembering Barbara Jean

“I remember clearly talking to Barb on the phone in the morning on that day.  Barb was working at the Chamber just for the morning, by herself, and she was in such a happy mood.  She told me that she had dinner with Tim the night before, and how much she enjoyed being with him.  I told her I was so glad that she had found someone who made her so happy.  At the end of the call, we said I love you to each other, and Merry Christmas.  I never imagined this would be the last conversation that I would ever have with my sister”.

“…Before it happened, Barb had done a funny Facebook post about sisters. Linda and I had both commented on it. I remember it so well, and I remember that just before he took her from all of us she was thinking of us. We were all thinking of each other”.

“When I got the call from Laurie that Barb had been killed my first thought was why. I knew that their divorce was not amicable, but I never thought he would do something like that”.

“I can still hear my mom’s voice in my head as she cried into the phone, ‘He killed her, Katie.  She’s dead’”.

On December 23, 2016, our beloved Barbie was murdered.  She was a victim of domestic violence; a murder-suicide.  Barb was the 17th known person to be murdered due to domestic violence in Minnesota.  She was so much more than a statistic, though.  She was our mother, our sister, our aunt, our grandmother, and our friend.

There are some who do not want her story to be told – it’s too painful…it brings up too many hard memories…it sheds a negative light on someone people loved.  But for Barb’s sake, and for every other victim lost to domestic violence, we will not be silenced.  We choose to share her story on the anniversary of her death in the hope that it will raise awareness about domestic violence.

We choose to share her story not to relive the painful memories, but because we believe sharing it will continue to shed her brilliant light on this world.  Someone tried to stifle that light, but we know as long as we keep her memory alive, and as long as we continue to tell her story, her light will never fade.

Yes, this is a story of great loss and perpetual grief, but this is also a story of hope.  At the time, we did not know the severity of her situation.  We did not know then that he was capable of the senseless violence that took her from us.  We could not have known, because she never wanted to burden us with her fears that he would hurt her – that was Barbie’s way.  Now we know.  But now, we are filled with hope that her story will inspire others in her situation to confide in someone and seek help.

Nobody deserves to become a victim to domestic violence.  Already in 2017, Minnesota has seen 21 people murdered due to domestic violence, surpassing the 2016 total.  21 precious lives lost too soon.  Each one with a unique story – ending the same way.  While their voices have been silenced, ours have not.  Today and every day, we choose to be truth-tellers, we choose to be advocates, we choose to empower those who feel voiceless.  Because by remaining silent, the abuser wins.

According to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, “For someone surviving domestic violence, connection is essential. Knowing someone is there and cares about what is happening can be a lifeline”. If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation of any kind, we urge you to seek help.

There are several resources available –

  • Day One® Minnesota Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 1.866.223.1111
  • Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women:
  • HOPE Center 24-hour Safeline (Rice County): 1.607.2330
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.799.7233 or 1.800.787.3224

We hope that Barb’s story will resonate with you on some level.  Maybe you, too, have experienced the loss of a loved one and can deeply understand what it means to have a permanent hole in your heart.

Maybe you are a survivor, or are surviving a domestic violence situation and you know what it means to live in constant fear of wondering if tomorrow might be your last day.

Maybe you are someone that knew Barb; knew the beautiful light and energy she bestowed on her friends, family, and community, and are profoundly missing her presence.

Whoever you are, we hope you know that even though Barbie is no longer with us in person, her spirit remains alive and well because of the unconditional love and support we saw from our community, because of the bonds of family that were strengthened in a situation that was meant to break us, and because we continue to share her story to help others.

People are not statistics and domestic violence doesn’t choose its victims based on gender, sexuality, or economic status.  Because of this, we will use our voices for good – nothing, not even death, can silence us.

Authored by:  Katie Laughlin, with quotes provided by Pat Fliegel, Laurie Johnson and Linda Laughlin.

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Keeping the “Me too” conversation going

In the middle of October, out of nowhere, my Facebook feed filled with posts that said “Me too” as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment. At first it felt exhilarating that our culture’s denial of our reality might be lifting a bit. The next day the online arguments started. At first, the hottest issue seemed to be that the campaign focused only on women. Other conversations that have stayed with me from the “me too” campaign are about listening to women of color and about the complications of going public as a survivor.

A lot of words have already been devoted to why this campaign didn’t specifically include men. I know male survivors of sexual violence face all the awful legacy that we female survivors face, plus some unique and additional stigma. There is nothing about this that is OK, and sweeping it under the rug means acting in cooperation with the perpetrators, which is something we can’t accept. At the same time, there is a special weight of sexual violence and harassment that falls on women as an element of gender-based violence and oppression. We’ve made huge strides in beating back the structures that have undermined our dignity for thousands of years, but this doesn’t change completely overnight. We need to be able to talk specifically about that particular problem, so we can address it.

Until this “me too” campaign came up, I was hearing a lot of voices saying that we’ve pretty much solved gender-based oppression, but that is not my experience, and it is not the experience of my family or many others. My father (who had me very late in life) was four years old before his mother could legally vote. My mother’s generation had to plow through harassment and violence with no recourse, and often without any vision of how things could be better. My sister’s husband broke her skull and then kidnapped her in handcuffs and drove her across the country after she fled to us for safety. Two of the men who abused me sexually very clearly felt justified by old but thriving ideas that men are entitled to women’s bodies. At the time, I couldn’t wrap my mind around that because I was too busy surviving. Remembering all the details from a safer place, I can see that cultural beliefs fed those men and made me so much more vulnerable. There’s a gender-based pattern here, and we cannot stay in denial about it.

In addition, there’s a gender-based power difference in many situations of sexual harassment and violence. So many of us live in denial of the low-level threat that many women live with every day because we are women. I remember talking with a male friend who was experiencing repeated unwanted touch from a woman. I felt a wave of fear and outrage for him and asked how he was dealing with it. He asked me to imagine that I could just flick my fingers at a perpetrator and the perpetrator would be totally floored. I couldn’t even imagine that. Then I felt weird picturing my friend flicking his fingers at me, and my feeling turned to mild fear as I began to suspect that this was how he felt about me. This conversation does not represent the experience of many male survivors, and I am not implying that men who were victimized should have been able to deflect abusive behavior. Instead, my story offers a snapshot of a pervasive power structure that often makes many men feel that women can be effortlessly dismissed, and that makes women feel that they have to stay on the defense. We need to be able to talk about that.

Brand-new and sometimes subtle outgrowths of gender oppression spring from cultural patterns that go back thousands of years. We have to confront that if we want to change it, and this campaign seems to be moving us forward a tiny bit by peeling back at least a little denial. That’s great. At the same time, we can’t ever forget the people who are hurting, unseen and not represented by even the best-intended campaign of the moment.

Along those lines, I was fascinated that an African American woman started the “Me too” campaign a decade ago. This was a reminder that our culture chronically ignores the gifts and needs of women of color. I don’t think anybody consciously thought, “Oh. Let’s ignore this great idea because the woman who came up with it wasn’t white.” Still, it took some attention from a white lady to get this thing rolling. I don’t want to forget that. As a white woman, I want the memory of this to stay with me as one more reminder that I need to fight forces in my mind and in our world that keep us from following the leadership of women of color.

This campaign also brought up how hard it is for us to share our experiences of domestic and sexual violence. I read one heartbreaking piece from a woman who couldn’t bring herself to write “Me too” because she thought her experiences were so much milder than everyone else’s “real” experiences with violence and harassment. As far as I can tell, every single survivor carries that same concern. Because someone else had it “worse,” we don’t deserve help. We don’t have authority to tell our stories. We should be able to suck it up and keep plowing along. These beliefs hurt. They’re part of the legacy of violence that so many of us share.

Then there are women who feel an uncomfortable pressure to share. Only a first-class jerk would want someone to go public with her experience of sexual violence or harassment if she did not feel clear to do that. Some who decided against posting “Me too” feel alone in their decisions, but they aren’t. One poll suggested that a large majority of female survivors on social media did not post “Me too,” so actually the posters were in the minority — a highly visible minority. One woman wrote that, by deciding not to post “Me too,” she felt like she was painfully deciding against giving her help to other people. Thank goodness our personal experience is not the only currency we can use as we try to make change in the world. This campaign does not define anybody’s desire and ability to be of service, her courage, or anything else about her. When we all bring different gifts to the table at different times, it helps things keep moving forward.

This campaign has created some impressive motion, but it hasn’t actually solved that much. The problem is huge and the struggle against it has been going on for ages. Our efforts need to be sustained and broadened and tweaked over time. We will need everyone’s different gifts to keep making progress.

Written by HOPE Center Volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan
You can find more of her writing on her website:

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Capital Campaign Update…

Childhood Girls

Here are our Champions of our Capital Campaign.

We are getting closer to our $10,000 Match, we are over $6,800 so we are almost there!!

And if you want your name on this list contact Erica: estaab (at)  And for those of you who are already there thank you for your support!

Capital Campaign Donors 8.15.17


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Lady Gaga, Stigma and Surviving…

Erica's Camera 5.17.17 4427This winter Lady Gaga told the press that she has PTSD because she was sexually assaulted at age 19, and someone told me what people were saying about the news in town.

“Who does she think she is?” one guy apparently said. “She never fought in a war!” His friend agreed and scoffed at Lady Gaga.

Those words hit me in the gut. I too have PTSD because of sexual assault — and many other incidents of abuse and trauma. There’s clearly a stigma against survivors of sexual violence and there’s also stigma against people wresting with a mental illness like PTSD. Those two stigmas come together to create a unique breed of awfulness.

That stigma says that traumas I have experienced are my fault. Resulting injuries (especially mental injuries like PTSD) should be hidden because who wants to advertise that they are basically weak? Besides, the mental disability confirms that the problem was me in the first place; clearly I was a little crazy all along. I have placed myself beyond the community’s sympathy and protection.

It’s not true. None of that is true. The voice of that stigma is just as disgusting as the abuse itself, and it walks hand in hand with violence against women, justifying it and allowing it to continue.  If survivors are seen as responsible for domestic and sexual violence of violence, then we will never be able to confront the real source of the problem – which is the behavior of abusers and the culture that supports that behavior.

The problem has never been that many of us have come through hell and stood at the edge of the abyss and have gone on to throw ourselves into the work of building fruitful lives with the gut-wrenching effort of scaling a cliff. We sometimes fall or get hurt, and sometimes we look awkward or defeated. With the drive of Olympic athletes, we keep trying. We are, after all, survivors.

We are not the problem. Not me. Not Lady Gaga. Not the throngs of us who are in the same situation, fighting this fight every day as if it were a solitary struggle instead of some hidden, undeclared war right here in our homes and our communities. Survivors have plenty of comrades, even if our shared experience is not always visible. We are here, and as much as it feels otherwise, we are not alone.

Stigma survives because people are afraid. They don’t want to confront their own vulnerability to hurting others or to being hurt by others. Staying in denial is easier, and it lets people feel strong. Feeling strong is not the same as being strong though. We show our strength by looking at the truth, even if it isn’t attractive, and then taking our wounded selves to that sheer cliff and trying again to climb it.

Written by HOPE Center Volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan
You can find more of her writing on her website:

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New Protocol Yields Good Results…

When the police come out to a domestic call, it’s a chaotic time. The person who made the call is often traumatized and scared and hurting, and even the most helpful visit from police can leave the person rattled and trying to think of answers to hundreds of questions. What’s going to happen next with the police and courts? Am I going to get kicked out of my apartment because of the police call? What steps can I take to stay safe now? What about the kids? Am I going to have to take off work to go to court now? What decisions do I need to be making?

At the HOPE Center, we help people answer those questions. We know how the court systems work, and we know about other resources in the community that can help at times like this. We give support and encouragement to survivors as they work through many other details and questions, knowing that each survivor knows better than anyone else what will be helpful to her own situation.
We’ve always been answering these questions, but now, thanks to our new Blueprint Program Law Enforcement puts us in touch with survivors of domestic violence before they leave the scene of a domestic – any time day or night. Then our trained advocates can offer support and information at a time when it might be needed the most.

The Faribault Police Department, the Northfield Police Department or the Rice County Sherriff’s Department are all involved with this program. They call one of our trained advocates as they are leaving the scene so we can be available to talk through a survivors’ options even after the police are gone.

Although we are grateful to work with Law Enforcement in this way, we are still independent of them and the court system. Our services are confidential, which means that we don’t report information back to the system unless our client (the survivor) asks us to do that. As always, we are there for survivors first and foremost.

Still, we have found during the first several months of this program, that this new approach has helped survivors communicate better with the police and the court system. Sometimes in the chaos of the police call, important information about a situation doesn’t get passed along. We can recognize that during our conversation with a survivor and help her take the steps she needs to take to communicate with the system. In our experience, we’ve seen survivors being more active in the criminal justice system since we started talking with them as the police leave.

Not all survivors feel like they can work closely with the system, and prosecution sometimes goes ahead without that participation because the state (not the victim) decides whether to press charges in cases of domestic violence. We still work with all survivors, accompanying them through the process and helping them understand what each step means. We are always here to offer support and help with problem solving.

We are so excited about our new collaboration with Law Enforcement and look forward to seeing how it can help ease the pain of domestic violence in Rice County over time.

Written by HOPE Center Volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan
You can find more of her writing on her website:

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Give to the Max Day Is Coming!!

GTMD2014Are you ready?

The 6th Annual Give to the Max Day is coming!

Avoid the GTMD rush, you can schedule your donation early so you know you won’t forget!




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Sexual Assault “Not Just A Woman’s Issue”

by: Sara Hart- Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator for HOPE Center

Rape … it can happen anytime, any place. It does not only happen to women, but also to men and children. Rape should not be just a “woman’s issue,” but an issue that our community as a whole needs to address and demand that it will no longer be silenced.
In a recent article it was stated that there has been four sexual assaults reported to Faribault law enforcement since January 2011. HOPE Center has worked with 22 victim/survivors of sexual assault since January 2011. These clients were informed what their options/rights are, may have been placed in safe housing, perhaps assisted in writing an Order for Protection/Harassment Restraining Order, given support during an evidentiary exam, and/or given emotional support.

Read more here.

Posted in General, Sexual Violence | 2 Comments

2nd Annual Scrub for HOPE!

Join us this Saturday from 11-3 as the ACT Center and Carleton Students help clean up Northfield!

The 2nd Annual Scrub for HOPE Car Wash will be in the Econofoods Parking lot at 601 Division Street.

You bring your car they wash that, and your $10 donation will help clean your conscience knowing you helped support a great organization :).  

Everybody walks away clean and happy!

We HOPE to see you there!

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