Workers Help Break the Cycle of Abuse

Jen Davey (left) and Hilary Hintsala are two of the AFSCME Local 3558 members at Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center who provide services to women and children experiencing domestic violence.
Jen Davey (left) and Hilary Hintsala are two of the AFSCME Local 3558 members at Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center who provide services to women and children experiencing domestic violence.

When women and children are getting abused in northern Minnesota, AFSCME members help them end the silence around domestic violence and provide them with a way out.

Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center, which is staffed by members of Local 3558, provides services and education about domestic violence to more than 1,500 women and children a year. It serves seven counties:  St. Louis, Carlton, Koochiching, Aitkin, Lake, Itasca and Cook.

“It’s imperative to the community because Safe Haven gives women and children who are in serious, dangerous situations an outlet,” says community and legal advocate Jen Davey. “There is a way out. Even if they’re not ready to leave, there is someone there to listen. It takes a woman on average seven times to leave before she’s gone for good.”

“Without services like Safe Haven in the Duluth community, there would be a lot of awful things going on behind closed doors,” says volunteer coordinator Hilary Hintsala. “We’re going to stand with our clients.”

Safe Haven workers provide a hotline and an emergency shelter where women and children stay on average 29 days – and as long as six months. The nonprofit also operates a drop-in center in downtown Duluth. Workers provide a range of services including:

  • Legal advocacy. Workers reach out to women after a domestic violence incident or arrest and offer services.  Advocates may go to court with women and help write requests for protective and restraining orders.
  • Helping women get a GED, apply for college and financial aid, find housing and write a resume.
  • Empowerment support groups that include strategies for healing, staying safe, avoiding abusive situations in the future and building self-esteem.
  • Hands-on work with kids to make sure they’re connected to schools, child care and therapy.
  • Making presentations to raise awareness about domestic violence and Safe Haven services for police, doctors, colleges, churches and health fairs.
  • Running a kids’ summer camp.
  • Providing women and children with clothes and other donated goods.

Even with the amazing list of services that Safe Haven provides, “We all want to do more,” Davey says. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had where it’s like, ‘I’ll do it. No, I’ll do it.’ Everybody we work with is fantastic.”

Safe Haven started in 1978 as one of the first women’s shelters in the country.  Almost 40 years later, domestic abuse is still prevalent: One in three people will experience domestic violence in some form, Hintsala says. One in five will experience physical or sexual abuse.

“Domestic violence is a topic nobody really wants to talk about,” Davey says. “Nobody wants to hear these horrible stories. It can happen anywhere, in any socioeconomic status, in any area of town.  A lot of times people don’t want to get involved unless it affects them or somebody close to them.”

“If the community turns a blind eye to it, clients become isolated,” Hintsala says. “If you pretend nothing is going on, you give the abuser more power.”

Domestic violence affects the entire community, Davey says. Kids who grow up seeing or experiencing such violence are more likely to become abused or abusers themselves, she says. The abuse causes physical and emotional issues. It makes people more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, and it creates more crime, she says.

“It causes a lot of harm to our communities,” Davey says. “It is the root of a lot of evil.”

That's something some staff members know firsthand. Many experienced domestic violence as kids or in relationships, which fuels their determination to help, says Davey, who grew up with an abusive father at a time when women were encouraged to stay with their abusers and getting divorced was seen as taboo.  Thankfully, her mom reached out to friends in a women’s coalition and found support to leave.

“I can relate to it as a kid who saw it and experienced it,” Davey says. “I really understand what my mom went through. I want to be that person who can give that support.  These women and kids are going through enough. If I can make somebody’s day better or easier, that’s what’s I want to do.”

But it's tough work:  “We’re lucky we have each other,” Hintsala says. “Everything we do is pretty confidential. It’s nice to have co-workers you can bounce things off of, somebody that will listen, because it’s pretty heavy work.”

“It’s not a fun job emotionally,” Davey adds. “We all have the same goal in mind. Everybody that works here is a feminist.  We all are working toward the same goal of helping and empowering women.”