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Participants in the Walk a Mile event hold up signs for Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien who was murdered in North Adams in January. Her death, in which her husband was charged, sparked an ongoing conversation in the city about domestic violence and sexual assault.
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The new 'Men Initiating Change In North County' march in the walk for the first time.

North Adams Continues to Address Domestic Violence Prevention

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Elizabeth Mitchell of the Elizabeth Freeman Center joins Mayor Thomas Bernard last week to tell the City Council how the center is training and resources.  
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city has recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But the official efforts aren't ending this year with a simple proclamation. 
After the murder of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien only days into the new year, City Councilors Marie T. Harpin and Benjamin Lamb submitted a communication asking that the council work with the mayor's office and community partners to create "a multi-pronged approach" to the issue of domestic violence within the community. 
That's resulted in a close partnership with the Elizabeth Freeman Center and the development of a communitywide conversation on relational violence in North County. 
"The community responded to this tragedy by engaging the city administration, the City Council, the Police Department, the public schools, health-care providers, community-based agencies including the Elizabeth Freeman Center and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and the Northern Berkshire United Way as well as residents affected by and concerned about domestic violence," read Mayor Thomas Bernard last week from his proclamation recognizing the month. "We, all of us, should not stop until we as a society has zero tolerance for domestic violence and until all citizens and survivors can be heard."
North Adams had reports of 152 assaults and 20 rapes in 2016, and 15 rapes in 2017. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that nearly one in three women in Massachusetts experienced some type of violence or stalking by a partner and nearly 25 percent of men experienced non-rape sexual assault. 
Relational assault can range from verbal, emotional and psychological abuse to murder and intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime in the United States. Bernard's proclamation also pointed to the links between partner abuse and violence against children, seniors and pets. 
Elizabeth Mitchell, a SAFEPLAN advocate with the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a nonprofit resource for people suffering from domestic violence and sexual assault, thanked the councilors for their advocacy. 
Since bringing the issue to the forefront last January, the center has completed a training for law enforcement personnel in North County, hosted the first of two planned community forums on regional violence and established a "substantial presence" in all the North County high schools and Drury Middle School. The center is also planning informational presentations and trainings for businesses, emergency medical personnel, health-care professionals and groups of community members this fall. 
It's also seen the formation of Men Initiating Change In North County (MIC INC), described by Mitchell as "an incredible group of men from North County who are committed to organizing a men's group willing to role model and take steps to improve the culture in North County as it pertains to relationships. 
The group, including Lamb and City Councilor Jason LaForest, recently marched with the mayor at the Freeman Center's annual fundraiser, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, last month in Pittsfield. 
MIC INC will also be having a standout at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 16, and the second community forum, "A Call to Action: A Community Response to Relational Violence," will be held Friday, Oct. 12, from 10 to noon at Terra Nova Church's The Green at 85 Main St. 
"We're aiming to connect with others who are passionate about changing statistics of relational violence in our community," Mitchell said.
The mayor said he wanted to thank the team at the Elizabeth Freeman Center. 
"They have been really terrific partners with the administration and the city over the past nine months," he said. "I'm grateful to you."
Anyone dealing with issues of domestic or sexual violence or interested in finding out more about resources at the Elizabeth Freeman Center and the work it does can call the North Adams office at 413-663-7459 or the 24-hour hotline at 866-401-2425.

Tags: domestic violence,   

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