Embrace billboard

A billboard promoting the local organizations Embrace for survivors of sexual assault can be seen from the southbound lanes of Hwy. 53, a mile north of Hwy. 70 between Bittersweet and Ojibwe roads. The billboard is on the left, atop the hill.

WASHBURN COUNTY – Washburn County will continue its share of funding for Embrace, an agency that provides services for survivors of domestic and sexual assault for Washburn, Barron, Price, and Rusk counties.

A question of support for the Ladysmith-based agency has swirled recently when Embrace posed an anti-racism statement "affirming the humanity and dignity of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)."

"As an anti-violence organization, Embrace cannot end one form of violence without addressing the other, and we cannot properly serve all survivors if we do not acknowledge and address the oppression and violence the most marginalized survivors are experiencing," the statement said. (The statement is attached to this article.)

The statement was issued after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery as well as the shooting of Jacob Blake. The statement condemns violence and white supremacy and supports the Black Lives and Indigenous Lives movements. Embrace also states that Communities of Color have disproportionately higher incidences of violence in part because of a history of racism in society.

Law enforcement agencies in Washburn County and Barron County reportedly withdrew their support of the agency.

“No victim services have been interrupted by the changes," said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. "We have just withdrawn our support, as well as law enforcement in all four counties they serve, over social issues they are taking up that are very anti-law enforcement. I believe that the environment they are creating may not be welcoming to all victims.”

Barron County's executive committee on October 7 voted to stop its $25,000 funding for Embrace.

County response

On Friday, Oct. 16, Thomas Mackie, Washburn County board chairman, released the following statement:

"We are very fortunate in Washburn County to have Jesse Christianson and Alyssa Melin serving our survivors of domestic and sexual assault violence. Jesse and Alyssa are employees of Embrace, the advocacy, support and shelter agency serving our County and they have passion in working with Washburn County residents in need. In 2019, Embrace staff served 272 survivors in-person, responded to 787 crisis calls and had over 1,100 contacts with Washburn County survivors overall.

"Embrace staff also perform a variety of violence prevention programs in the community and schools to help reduce future occurrences of abuse. Embrace (formerly Timeout Abuse Shelter) has been serving Washburn County residents professionally and innovatively for decades and continues to be a strong community partner in Washburn County.

"As many residents are aware of, administration from Embrace and our local Law Enforcement agencies may not always be on the same page in regard to current hot topic issues. Washburn County continues to support and very much appreciate the very important services that all our law enforcement agencies and Embrace provide and we’re hoping to continue a mutually beneficial relationship.

"In the meantime, Washburn County will continue to fund Embrace to ensure our residents in need continue to receive the services they need."

An in-depth article will be in the October 22 issue of the Spooner Advocate.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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