Abuse victims’ advocate Ellen Pence dies

By: Mark Stodghill

January 7, 2012

A co-founder of Duluth’s world-renowned Domestic Abuse Intervention Project and a woman considered the “mother” of domestic violence intervention has died.

Ellen Pence, 63, died Friday morning after a long struggle with breast cancer.

“She was brilliant, sharp-witted, loved people and was extremely hard-working,” said Duluth Assistant City Attorney Mary Asmus, a friend of Pence’s for almost 30 years.

“It’s hard to even put into words because her contribution is so huge,” Asmus said. “Before Ellen was here, the criminal justice system did not intervene in domestic violence issues. Police did not arrest. People didn’t get prosecuted. Nowhere in the state or country. She is really behind all of it. It all goes back to her. She is the mother of our coordinated community response.”

Pence helped found the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project and is credited with creating the Duluth Model of intervention in domestic violence cases, which uses an interagency approach involving police, probation, courts and human services. The primary goal is to protect victims from ongoing abuse. The project also included the start of Duluth’s mandatory arrest policy, which says an arrest must be made if there is an injury and police have evidence of an assault.

Linda Riddle, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, said the Duluth model is used in all 50 states and at least 17 countries.

“No one has done more to end violence against women than Ellen Pence,” Riddle said. “She has been a teacher, mentor, friend and sister to countless women and men across the world.”

Duluth police Chief Gordon Ramsay and his wife, Tracy, were longtime friends of Pence. They visited her at her St. Paul condominium the day after Christmas.

“She still had her humor. She was still making Tracy and I laugh. She was an incredible woman,” Gordon Ramsay said. “What she started here and the others who worked with her started is now a model around the world. The one thing I’ll always remember about Ellen is the sparkling of her eye and the disarming smile and manner that she had.”

Ramsay said that Pence grew to love Duluth police, but it wasn’t love at first sight. “She told me that when she was primarily pushing us to create the mandatory domestic arrest policy back in 1980 or ’81, police gave her resistance. She said they were all (jerks), ‘but they did what I asked them,’ ” Ramsay said.

Ramsay said a sponsor will be sought for a City Council resolution naming the training room in the new police headquarters on Arlington Avenue in Pence’s honor.

Pence was publicly recognized for her efforts on Feb. 5, 2010, when Duluth Mayor Don Ness proclaimed it Ellen Pence Day. She attended a ceremony at City Hall wearing a surgical mask to protect against germs. She had just completed her latest round of chemotherapy for breast cancer and her resistance was down but her spirit wasn’t.

In an interview with the News Tribune that day, Pence said she was one of “those lefty hippie dropouts” until she found her calling in the 1970s. She landed a job with the Minneapolis Housing Authority helping relocate people who had emergency housing problems. She also assisted women who were running away from battering husbands.

She immersed herself in the study of domestic violence and came to Duluth and helped develop the model of handling domestic violence that she said is seen as the “gold standard” around the world.

Pence founded Praxis International, a nonprofit research and training organization that works toward the elimination of violence in the lives of women and children, in 1998.

Source: Duluth News Tribune