When Vice President Joe Biden agreed to speak about the Duluth Model’s success in addressing domestic violence, he was given a choice of two venues: Duluth or Geneva, Switzerland.

“I picked Duluth,” he said to a roar of applause from about 100 people in attendance at the Duluth-St. Louis County Public Safety Building on Thursday.

Biden spoke for about 30 minutes at a small, private event for victims’ advocates and representatives of criminal justice agencies, before heading to Hibbing to stump for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan’s re-election bid.

The Duluth stop was anything but the energetic, late-season campaign rally that was promised for the Iron Range. Taking a somber tone, the vice president and other speakers recognized the work that already has been done, and still needs to be done, to combat domestic abuse.

“We have to change the culture in America,” Biden said. “The community has to be aware of this vile crime. The community has to be understanding “

The vice president celebrated Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs and public agencies that together form the Duluth Model’s “coordinated community response.” The model, launched more than three decades ago, pioneered many aspects of modern domestic violence policies, such as mandatory arrests, and collaboration between agencies including police, courts and human services. It has been replicated across the country and around the world.

The model was recognized last week in Geneva with the World Future Council’s Future Policy Award as the best program in the world for addressing violence against women and girls.

Biden said he first discovered the work of the Duluth Model’s developers in 1976, when he was on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and trying to tackle domestic violence issues.

“Only you and a few others wanted to pay any attention to it,” Biden said. “You helped awakened not only the nation, but the world, about what I believe to be the most vile crime that anyone can commit.”

Melissa Scaia, executive director of DAIP, introduced Biden as “the very best advocate in this country for battered women and children.”

As a senator, Biden was the author of the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed into law in 1994. The legislation provided new regulations for law enforcement agencies, stiffened criminal penalties for offenders and expanded services for survivors.

In preparation for introduction of the bill in the late 1980s, Biden said, one of the first people contacted by his staff was Duluth Model co-founder Ellen Pence.

“She was brilliant, funny, courageous - but the thing I admired most about her was her sense of both compassion and a sense of urgency,” Biden said. “There was this incredible sense of urgency that apparently was infectious in this community.”

Appropriately, Biden’s speech was delivered in a room that’s now named for Pence, who died of breast cancer in 2012.

“I am confident that Ellen is smiling down on us right now,” Biden said. “What she started, along with some of you here, is a worldwide model.”

Prior to taking the podium, Biden listened as Nolan, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Duluth Mayor Don Ness addressed the crowd. Biden thanked Klobuchar for her work on domestic violence issues and said that had she been in the Senate years ago, passing the Violence Against Women Act “would have been a lot easier.”

Nolan and Klobuchar both praised Biden as a champion of domestic violence issues and credited him with the passage of the legislation.

“Joe Biden gives police officers and cops credit for writing that legislation and pushing for that legislation long before it became a reality,” Nolan said. “But the real truth of that matter - not that that isn’t true - but Joe Biden is the guy that sat down and wrote that legislation.”

Biden is the first sitting president or vice president to hold an event in Duluth since Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004. President George Bush also stopped in Duluth to campaign that year. Biden last visited the Northland in 2012, just days before the presidential election, for a rally at Superior Middle School.

Attendees were left impressed by the vice president’s speech, many clamoring to get a handshake or photo with him. Biden did not use a teleprompter and appeared to only occasionally glance down at some prepared notes during his speech.

“You could tell he was speaking from the heart,” St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin remarked afterward.

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