In early October, two counties cut ties with Embrace, a domestic abuse support organization in Wisconsin. Presumably, Embrace’s statement of solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) promoted their parting.
Embrace is a domestic abuse support organization that has offered services throughout rural and low-income Wisconsin since 1980. Starting as a shelter for individuals fleeing abuse, the organization has grown to provide a wide-range of community-based advocacy services. Ultimately, the organization’s primary mission is to “inspire social change and eradicate violence.”
Responding to the increased media coverage of police brutality and the painful and unjust deaths of Black individuals, leaders at Embrace took public action and committed to making internal changes. Publicly, they released the above statement of solidarity and displayed a Black Lives Matter sign in their office.
Barron and Washburn County cut ties with Embrace
After Embrace released their statement of solidarity, Barron County government officials were the first to take action. At their Executive Committee meeting, the Barron County Board of Supervisors voted to terminate their contract with Embrace. The contract included $25,000 of funding. In addition, the county’s Director of the Department of Health and Human Services resigned from Embrace’s board of directors.
When asked to explain their rationale, a county official explained that Embrace’s statement was seen as divisive. They saw the statement to create an unwelcoming environment for clients and express intent to exclude law enforcement from future work.
Soon after Barron County severed ties, Washburn County Law Enforcement followed suit. In a public Facebook post, Washburn County Sheriff’s Office announced they would no longer work with Embrace.
When asked to explain their rationale, a Washburn official spoke vaguely. He said Embrace’s agenda “is no longer about victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
An open letter to the Washburn County Sheriff
Dear Sheriff Dennis Stuart,
Last week, I learned that your department cut ties with the nonprofit Embrace. From the information I could gather, it appears that Embrace’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement prompted your parting.
However, not being from Washburn myself, I could only gather information from what I could find online. So, much of the information I found was from Barron County. These members more explicitly stated their discomfort with Embrace’s statement of support to BIPOC. Additionally, while your Facebook post intended to “dispel rumors about this matter,” it ultimately left me with more questions. I still cannot understand why you made this decision unless politically and emotionally fueled by others in the community.
I hope that by writing to you directly, I can better understand your decision and bring my concerns to light. Working at a domestic abuse advocacy center similar to Embrace motivated me to write this letter. I ask you to consider the following reasons to reconsider your decision. Or, at the very least, to understand the potential, and I believe probable, repercussions of your actions.
#1: You are stripping your community of essential support Embrace provides to combat domestic abuse.
Regardless of your rationale for doing so, ending your partnership with Embrace will make it more difficult for your community members facing abuse to access the support they desperately need and deserve.
On Embrace’s website, they state that they are “the only domestic violence and sexual assault survivor services provider in the rural and low-income service area.” My research confirms this statement; however, even if other organizations provide crisis intervention, Embrace offers comprehensive advocacy services that are unmatched in your community.
In addition to operating as a safe shelter to victims seeking safety, Embrace also provides long-term support. The holistic model that Embrace has adopted mimics the evidence-based best practices for domestic support advocacy. This model describes how organizations can support long-term healing and community change in addition to standard crisis intervention. The recommended practices include long term counseling, support group therapy, advocacy outlets, and community education – all of which Embrace provides.
Thus, ending your partnership will isolate the mutual community members from services that have been proven beneficial to combat domestic abuse. Further, you are cutting ties with an organization that may be victims’ only, and undoubtedly their best, resource for safety and healing.
I am concerned. How will you mend this gap in advocacy that your decision has created? What community-based organization will you partner with that will provide paralleled support?
#2: You are disregarding the most essential voices in your decision.
I am also concerned that you did not listen to domestic abuse survivors or leaders at Embrace before making your decision. These voices must be heard, for they have an invaluable perspective and will be the ones who suffer the repercussions of your actions.
Firstly, to better understand your decision, I look to your neighbor. A Barron official explained that Embrace’s statement “could be seen as creating an environment that does not welcome everyone.” This is making an assumption for those accessing Embrace’s services in the past, present, and future.
Did you include community members who had received support from Embrace, or any victims of domestic abuse, in your decision to cut ties with them? If so, do they no longer support Embrace after reading their statement of solidarity with BIPOC?
This would surprise me, but I have not found a statement of response from those accessing Embrace’s services. So, I do not want to speak for anyone but myself.
Secondly, a director from Barron expressed fear that Embrace will entirely exclude law enforcement in future efforts to support victims of domestic abuse.
However, did you discuss this concern with Embrace? Do they plan to exclude you from all future work?
Once again, this would surprise me, especially in light of Embrace’s Executive Director’s recent statement:
“We are proud to collaborate with our law enforcement partners and our joint safety services are extremely effective for survivors. We hope partners will come to the table with us, commit to staying focused on the common ground we have and prioritize survivors–do what is best for them.”
Together, we must gravely remember that there are life-threatening consequences for silencing those fighting domestic abuse.
Would you please reflect on the voices that were centered in your decision to cut ties with Embrace?
#3: You are undermining your primary promise to your community.
Lastly, in your mission statement, you champion the mission of justice for all, yet you cut ties with an organization fighting for just that.
Operating under the oath “Of the People, By the People and For the People” you seek to “guarantee to all persons, regardless of sex, race, creed or color, their right to freedom.” Ironically, as I read the Embrace statement of solidarity, your oath seems strikingly parallel to the goals that Embrace positions in their statement and of the goals of the larger movement for Black Lives.
We are inundated with examples in which law enforcement in America has taken our community members’ right to life and freedom, disproportionately impacting Black individuals. Police officers unjustly killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, and countless others not listed in Embrace’s statement. To respond to this long history of racial injustice and honor their mission of anti-violence, Embrace included this call to action in their statement:
“We urge more community members, colleagues, and agency partners who work in all systems– judicial, law enforcement, education, healthcare, housing, social services– throughout our community to acknowledge the recurrent problem of racial bias, reimagine their roles, explore community-led solutions, and commit to being anti-racist through their actions and words.”
Evidently, Embrace acknowledges that your proclaimed mission of “justice for all” and their mission of ending violence and domestic and sexual abuse cannot be met without systemic, community-wide changes.
Do you believe it can?
Thank you for your time and energy to contemplate my questions and consider my concerns. My greatest hope is that you will respond to this letter by bringing in the voices of survivors, leaders at Embrace, and community partners, giving specific attention to BIPOC in these roles. Your work to eradicate domestic abuse, help your community members heal, and achieve justice for all cannot be achieved without listening to these essential voices.
A concerned college student passionate about domestic abuse advocacy
- Donate to Embrace here
The direct and indirect quotations included in this article are from Washburn County Law Enforcement Sever Ties With Embrace; Barron County To End Its Funding