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A center of healing

Victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence will experience new strategies for healing with the Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota. FACNM administrators held a grand opening ceremony Tuesday afternoon at their offices at North Country...

Victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence will experience new strategies for healing with the Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota.

FACNM administrators held a grand opening ceremony Tuesday afternoon at their offices at North Country Regional Hospital. They said they expect staff to complete training and begin treating victims in January.

U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger noted the unique nature of the center, which is a collaboration among federal agencies, Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Tribes and 15 northern Minnesota counties.

This center is the first of its kind in the nation, he said.

The centers mission is to ensure access to comprehensive care with compassionate, appropriate and timely health services, forensic evaluations, referrals and case management.

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In the Medical Model Child Advocacy Center, in rooms decorated with pictures of bear cubs and fawns, mobiles and picture books, child victims will be evaluated medically and interviewed by trained professionals. The interviews will be videotaped, so that law enforcement officials and socials services can observe the process and the child doesnt have to repeat the story several times.

FACNM is also one of the few programs in the country to provide services to victims of adult sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as children, and it is the only center specifically serving American Indians.

Heffelfinger said the services will help victims begin to heal immediately and develop evidence to bring the abuser to justice.

Speaking during a program marked with honor songs by the Red Lake singers and a prayer in Ojibwe by Red Lake member Margaret Porter, Dr. Diane Bohn, FACNM executive director, said the center should also interrupt the cycle of abuse that perpetuates from generation to generation.

Abuse is a very powerful force in our society, she said. What gives this violence its power is the layers of silence that surround it. Abusers do what they do because they can.

She asked the approximately 60 people who gathered for the grand opening to visualize a day when the center would go out of business for lack of victims.

Imagine a world where the abuser, not the victim, is shamed and humiliated, Bohn said.

She will be working with Nurse Practitioner Sherry Ellefson and Administrative Assistant June Kendall. Dr. Rich Kaplan of the Midwest Childrens Resource Center will serve in a consulting capacity and physicians from MeritCare will also assist as needed.

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Heffelfinger said the opening of the center is happening 18 months after he suggested the idea at a Red Lake Tribal Council meeting. He credited Red Lake Secretary Judy Roy, Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. and the Red Lake Tribal Council for their commitment and funding of the center. He also credited Jim Hanko, North Country Health Services president and CEO, with moving the project along by leasing space for the FACNM at North Country Regional Hospital.

Kaplan also praised the collaboration that made the center a reality.

I have received nothing but support and care for the kids, he said.

Roy said the center will be a resource for the entire region. She compared the excitement of the centers grand opening with the feelings people had when Red Lake opened Equay Wiigamig, the battered womens shelter.

The excitement, of course, is not because the need is there, but because the service is there, she said. We need not only to help the victim, but at some point, the perpetrator if we are ever going to break the cycle.

Bohn said the center is funded by $1 million in start-up money. Continuing fees for services will be covered by patients health insurance or Beltrami County, depending on the circumstances, she said.

Those supporting the center are: U.S. Department of Justice Offices for Victims of Crime and of Violence Against Women; Minnesota Community Education; Shakopee Mdewakanton Community; Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe; Prairie Island Indian Community; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation; Northwest Minnesota Foundation; Target Foundation; Neilson Foundation and Best & Flanagan, LLP.

The center is governed by a board of directors from health care, Red Lake officers, social workers and law enforcement.

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