More and more victims of domestic violence are stepping out from behind the shadows to shine the light on a deadly problem. In 2009 44% of the murders in South Dakota were a result of domestic violence. Nancy Naeve Brown met a woman in Sioux Falls who wants to help other women who have been in her shoes and take back the night.
Melissa Hemmestad's journey here has been an interesting one. She works as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at the South Dakota Urban Indian Health Office in Sioux Falls. She is also involved in the "Take Back the night event" to raise awareness for domestic violence month. 17 years ago she was kidnapped by a man she'd met in Texas. She didn't find out until later on, he had several warrants out for his arrest. He followed her home from Texas to South Dakota then took her to Oklahoma. For 2 1/2 months he would rape, abuse and control her.
Melissa says, "I was in Oklahoma and working at a gas station. His way of controlling me was strangulation until I passed out. It's warm down there so it was odd I always wore turtlenecks so my co-workers suspected something."
Melissa was the featured speaker at the 2010 "Take Back the Night" event. She told how repeated threats to kill her and her family if she left, kept her there. Eventually one of her co-workers husband who worked in law enforcement talked her in to bringing something to work with his fingerprints on it. She snuck out a glass he used. Those prints revealed a rap sheet a mile long.
Melissa says, "It was the persistence of my co-workers and that law enforcement officer not to give up, not to judge me for staying in it, not to lecture me for what I was doing. They did recognize it was a dangerous situation too. They hid my car until he was apprehended. They took every precaution to make sure I was safe."
Avera McKennan's Emergency Department doctors and nurses want women to know, this too is a safe place to come.
Dr. Don Kosiak says, "There is a mechanism in place if you feel unsafe at your home. We get someone from social services, we tap into our community resources like Children's Inn and we bring them to you bedside to help make this a safe place for them. We are not the police, but we try to make it a safe environment and try to do what we can to ease the situation."
Melissa says the best thing friends and family can be is supportive even if the victim isn't ready to leave the situation. She says it helps knowing there are places like Avera McKennan that ready to help when that time comes.
The Minnehaha Family Violence Council invites you to the "Take Back the Night" event to support victims of domestic violence.
Take Back the Night
It's Thursday, October 20th
Avera McKennan Education Center
(Ground floor of the Orthopedic Institute)