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Kenyan women use Duluth Model to combat domestic violence

Domestic violence remains a hidden and often misunderstood crime. It's simple for outsiders to wonder why a spouse doesn't just leave an abusive relationship. The solution is anything but simple.

Domestic violence remains a hidden and often misunderstood crime. It's simple for outsiders to wonder why a spouse doesn't just leave an abusive relationship. The solution is anything but simple.

In the last 25 years Duluth has become a national and international model demonstrating how to confront the issue of domestic violence.

For three weeks four women from Nairobi, Kenya, have studied the Duluth Model as part of an exchange program between Safe Haven and Kenya's newly formed Coalition on Violence Against Women. The two organizations have worked on the exchange since May 2000.

"It's amazing to me how the general population isn't more aware of how important Duluth is in the world of domestic violence," said Susan Utech, executive director of the Safe Haven Shelter for Battered Women.

Utech said the Duluth Model is a coordinated response to domestic violence that inspires all organizations to be involved in the process of addressing a domestic violence situation, from the police department to social services to legal agencies. The model is considered proactive. It works to penalize and rehabilitate abusers as well as empower victims.

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"Most communities do not have this holistic approach," Utech said.

Marci Jackson, chair of the Safe Haven Shelter for Battered Women, said Duluth is working to end domestic violence not only in Duluth but worldwide.

Grants from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Global Awareness Fund of the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation provided funds for the Kenyan women's visit.

Besides a few emergency rescue centers, only one shelter exists in all of Kenya. The shelter is small, holding only 30 women and children combined at a time.

Instigating cultural change has proven to be an arduous task for the coalition, especially when some Kenyan communities believe that beating is a sign of a husband's love for his wife.

The objective of the Kenya Coalition is to end domestic violence against women through public awareness, education and lobbying for legislative reform.

Jacqueline Akhalemesi Anam, one of the visiting women, said Kenya recently passed a domestic violence bill that, for the first time, gives a comprehensive definition of what constitutes domestic abuse. Besides penalizing abusers, the bill addresses the rights of children and supports rehabilitation programs for both abusers and victims.

Anam said when the coalition formed, the silence was finally broken. Women came together to raise awareness by holding protests in front of police stations, keeping all-night vigils and working with the media to highlight cases of women being abused.

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The coalition attended the trial of one man who beat his wife to death. They all wore the same T-shirt to make themselves visible. The man was given a life sentence, which, upon appeal, was reduced to 15 years.

Despite all the campaigning, the Kenyan women said they have to push to get police to take domestic violence seriously.

"We don't have as yet a very coordinated response," Anne Wanjiku Gathumbi said. Holding protests is often the only way to communicate with the police.

During their visit the Kenyan women were trained in a variety of ways with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. They attended men's battering groups and anger control classes, they went on ride-alongs with the police and they went to court with advocates to learn the legal process. They also spent a few days in the shelter to learn how it operates.

Anam said the Duluth visit was an eye-opening experience, and they will take what they learned from the Duluth Model and apply it to their own culture and environment.

"We want to start a shelter, and we wanted to see how it operates here so we can contextualize it," she said.

Four women from Duluth -- Cathryn Curley, Shannon Lyon, Nneka Harris and Cheryl Boman -- will travel to Kenya to learn more about the situation and talk with Kenyan people about domestic violence.

"We began in much the same way, with awareness, protests and acknowledging that there's even a problem," Boman said.

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Visiting a different culture in the beginning stages of confronting domestic violence will give the four women a fresh perspective on the issue.

"When we go to Kenya we're going to learn something, too," said Boman.

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