Fighting Domestic Abuse: Part One

By KBJR News 1

May 24, 2011 Updated May 24, 2011 at 10:12 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) 30 years ago a Duluth woman single-handedly saved thousands of lives across the nation. Ellen Pence's ground-breaking policy for law enforcement response to domestic abuse became standard police operating procedure throughout the United States.

On October 14th, 2010 an abusive man murdered his Minnesota family in cold blood. Justus Kebabe killed his 32-year-old wife and their two children.

There was a history of domestic abuse in the family and prior threats to kill his wife. Unfortunately it does happen, but perhaps not as often as it used to.

"All groups of women are battered less than they were," said Ellen Pence, the founder of the Duluth Model.

The program is largely responsible for that drop in domestic abuse nation-wide.

"If you make it difficult for men to beat up women they will do it less," Pence said.

Making it difficult for batterers was the main goal of a program that started in Duluth in 1978 and spread across the country.

"Duluth started a little revolution, "Pence said. " You know here's a little city in northern MN of 90,000 people and the police chief says all right we're willing to arrest every time we go out if someone's injured."

The first step was called mandatory arrest and it's still in effect today. If police find any evidence of abuse, from torn clothing to bruises, they can arrest the suspect. It was a major change for police to take battering so seriously.

"It seems like a nice, easy, straight forward approach, but it was the first place in the whole country to actually step in and say to this guy you don't get to do this," said Pence.

With obvious success in reducing domestic abuse the Duluth Model quickly spread.

"It could not, and would not, have spread across the country and internationally if it didn't have elements of truth and good practice," said Linda Riddle, the executive director of DAIP.

The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program took the next step by setting up classes for batterers, to reduce the level of repeat assaults.

"74% of the men who complete the 27 week class are not getting re-arrested; they're not showing back up in the criminal justice system for domestic violence," Riddle said.

The Duluth Model has now expanded to working toward healthier families. Some of that occurs here at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program's Family Visitation Center.

"Our focus really is to ensure safety while they're visiting on site and then to work intensively with the parent whose visiting, to make sure that they're making behavior changes so that there's an increased chance of safety when they do go off site," said Francis Macaulay, the the coordinator of the Duluth Family Visitation Center.

Through the years the name Ellen Pence has become synonymous with stopping domestic violence, a goal she continues to work toward today.

"Move in quickly. Move in surely, swiftly, put consequences down," said Pence.

Consequences that today are making women safer across the world.

There is now a next step in the Duluth Model, it's called the Blueprint For Safety and once again Duluth has been chosen as one of only three cities in the nation to give the program a trial run.

Barbara Reyelts will take a look at the Blueprint For Safety Wednesday night (5/25) at ten.