In The Press

Take Back the Night 

By Stephanie Wagner

Issue date: 10/1/07 

People throughout the community gathered in Barden Park to support victims and survivors of domestic abuse Thursday night.

Take Back the Night is an annual rally and march to raise awareness and take a stand against assault. The event included live music from the band Third Shift, awareness activities and speakers to tell their personal stories.

"It is an advertisement letting people know that rape and abuse aren't allowed," said Gwenn Garcia, 26.

Garcia was one of many to volunteer at the rally and march from the social work department. The volunteers felt it was something that needed to be addressed.

"It could happen to any of us just walking to our car," said volunteer Lisa Ficker, 26.

The keynote speaker of the night was Karen Wussow, an SCSU alumna and survivor of abuse. Wussow discussed living with alcoholic parents until she ran away and was put into foster care at 11.

She described that by the age of 15, being sexually abused had become a natural part of her life.

"It was like getting up and brushing your teeth," Wussow said.

Wussow grew up to have a family of her own, and after being told she had the ability to do so, began attending college to get a degree in social work at SCSU.

It was then she discovered that she could learn, "something I didn't think I could do."

Other survivors shared their stories during an open mic portion of the evening.

Among the activities was the Gravestone Project, which consisted of paper gravestones designed by the children of the East Side Boys and Girls Club.

Each stone told the story of a woman or child who died in Minnesota over the past year due to domestic abuse or assault.

People began lining up to march the streets of St. Cloud when darkness fell.

With the front section reserved for women only, others marched behind chanting loudly for safe streets and less violence.

With chants such as "There's no excuse, stop the abuse," the crowd waved signs to attract attention.

Kept on the right side of the street by "peace keepers," the march rallied down Ninth Avenue and through downtown, coming back through campus for a finish.

Observers joined in from their homes and stores as the crowd made its way through downtown, one man emerging from a store with a drum to accompany the other drummers.

Annie Wahlin, 23, was one of many to participate in the march.
"It really made you feel like a million bucks," Wahlin said. "It's amazing how many different people came together for one thing."

In April, 07 

West Central Tribune
By: Carolyn Lange
Published Saturday, April 14, 2007

To say that Karen Wussow successfully pulled herself from her bootstraps would be a serious understatement.
As a girl in the 1960s, the Little Falls woman nearly drowned in a childhood mired in severe poverty, physical abuse and neglect by her alcoholic mother, abandonment by her alcoholic father, bare-bones care in a metro orphanage and years of sexual abuse by a rural Minnesota foster father who repeated!)' raped her when she was young and then stalked and threatened her when she left the house as a teenager.

She stood helpless as the social service system ignored her pleas for help. Amazingly, Wussow grappled her way through mile-high barricades to become a licensed social worker.

She's currently working in Crow Wing County helping children and families who are experiencing some of the same daily horrors that she endured. Wussow's journey from abuse and neglect to becoming a social worker is chronicled in her book. "Outside the Lines," which was published March 13.

Wussow will be in Willmar on Tuesday to make three presentations, including a public event scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Kennedy School Little Theater. Admission is free. Wussow will also be speaking to social workers in the early afternoon at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building, followed by a presentation to prisoners at the Kandiyohi County Jail.

Her presentations are sponsored by the Kandiyohi Count)' Blue Ribbon Child Abuse Prevention Council and are being held in conjunction with "Child Abuse Prevention Month,' which is marked in April. The Council, which is made up of child protection professionals and community representatives, sponsors a major event even other year to increase awareness and promote prevention of child abuse.

The theme for the campaign is "Together WE can ... work as a community to empower children! and families to end child abuse."

As pan of the activity, children are coloring gift bags with images of healthy families thai will be handed out at Wussow's presentations. Some third-grade classrooms are also participating in a poster contest for child abuse prevention month.

Kalhy Buer, a supervisor with the Kandiyohi County Family Services Department, said Wussow's story emphasizes the need to listen to children. "It's important to hear our kids and pay attention to what they're saying to us," said Buer. Being "heard and supported'' is vital to children living with abuse.

Buer said Wussow's book can help social workers and other child advocates "look at cases through the eyes of the child'' and recognize the importance of no) giving up on families and the value of taking extra time to help them find resources to reach goals.

Buer said Wussow's book also emphasizes the importance of preserving connections between children and their biological family — even if parental rights are terminated. She said most of the time those connections are crucial for the child's well-being. Another powerful message that Wussow delivers is the value of people not giving up on themselves or their goals.

"If you've got struggles, don't throw in the towel." said Buer.

Wussow had a mountain of struggles — but she never gave up on herself or her goals. After escaping an abusive foster home she married, and later divorced, a man who controlled her every move and every penny she spent.

While raising three children alone, working low-paying jobs and using financial aid and public assistance, Wussow went to college to get a degree in social work.

Buer said she hopes people who hear Wussow's message will find incentive to reach their goals.

If you have questions about Wussow's presentations or would like to become involved with with child abuse prevention, contact Karen at 320-733-4888.


Author to provide hope for children and families living with abuse
West Central Tribune By: Carolyn Lange
Published Saturday, April 14, 2007

Karen Wussow said she always knew "when to duck.
" or...When beer bottles went Hying during the nearly daily brawl between her parents, or when her mother tried to place a blow to the girl's head or yank out a handful of hair, Wussow knew how to evade and avoid much — but not all — of the physical abuse that was so much a part of her life.

What she didn't know at the time, as a little girl growing up in poverty and neglect in the 1960s and '70s, was the unknown consequences of not .

Because the fear of the unknown was greater than the abuse she knew, Wussow continued to love her parents and seel; their approval while at the same time rounding up her young brothers in a protective circle against what would surely be another bout of living with her abusive, alcoholic parents. . .The term ''resilience" is often used to describe children who survive abuse and still cling to their abusive parents.

Wussow said she had no other option but to hang tight and survive the emotional roller coaster.

"Children don't have a choice," she said. "I didn't have a choice. That doesn't make me resilient." said Wussow, who is now a social worker in Crow Wing County and author of the hook "Outside the Lines." .

Wussow will be in Willmar Tuesday for three speaking engagements. Wussow :s compelling book is page after page of her memories as a little girl growing up with horrendous abuse at the hands of her parents.

She was removed from her parents' care when she was 9 years old and shuffled through an orphanage and various foster homes. She was sexually abused by a foster father until she was 19.

Knowing in advance that Wussow eventually overcame a life of abuse to reach her goal of becoming a social worker makes it possible to keep turning the pages to read another anecdote of hsr abuse.

With about 200 books sold so far since being released last month, the response has been mixed.

"Some say it's very heavy and very difficult to read,'' said Wussow in an interview. "Others say they like it and they think it's going to be helpful." A third group is "not quite sure what to make of it," she said.

"There's no nice way to say you've been sexually abused," she said. As overwhelming as Wussow's story is to read, the book could have been even heavier.

Wussow said she could have provided endless examples of physical abuse at her mother's hands. "But you don't need 16 examples of abuse when three or four will suffice," she said, explaining why the original 450-page manuscript was trimmed to half its size.

Wussow is hopeful that making her story public will help provide a voice for kids who are experiencing some of the same abuse today that she did 40 years ago.

"My story is not so unique, but I'm in a position to share it," she said.

Talking about sexual abuse is never easy but it should be talked about, she said, and it should be stopped. Better yet, she said, families need to have access to resources to prevent the abuse from ever starting.

"I'm hoping it'll be something that'll make people think." she said.

Wussow wants her book to provide hope to children and families and encouragement to never give up on reaching their goals.

Ideal as a resource for child protection professionals, educators and students studying social work, Wussow's book also sends the message to people who work with the families to never give up on the families.

She said the social service and child protection services have improved greatly since she was a child but said there's more yet to do.

Wussow, who will be speaking during a public forum from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Little Theater at Kennedy Elementary School, said she wants to "install some compassion" and help eliminate stereotypes about people living in poverty.

She encourages people to offer a gentle smile and word of encouragement to people instead of hurtful "whispers" that children carry for a lifetime. For people who have great pain in their lives, simple gestures of encouragement can help make the world not so harsh and life "not so painful all the time," she said.

Since she finished the five-year project to write and publish the book. Wussow said her memories aren't as intense as they were in the past. "I've taken them from inside my head and heart and put them down of paper." she said. "They don't hold such a power." Wussow's hook will be available for sale at the Tuesday evening presentation. They can also be ordered from her Web site: www.karenwussow,com


Social worker's story is one of inspiration for inmates at the county jail
West Central Tribune By: Eric Ebert
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2007

WILLMAR — There was something uniquely different about Karen Wussow's audience Tuesday afternoon.

As a group of men wandered into the small meeting room at the Kandiyohi County Jail, it was obvious by the orange socks and sandals and blue jumpsuits that this was not a typical presentation. But then again, Wussow is not your typical woman.

Wussow may be a hard-working social worker, author and single mother from Little Falls, but she is also the victim of physical, verbal and sexual abuse.

However, Wussow, 48. has refused to let the events of her past cloud her future. For the pas! 12 years, she has worked as a social worker in Crow Wing County. S

Standing al the front of a small room and flanked by her daughter. Shannon. Wussow shared her story and the gory effects of abuse with inmates at the county jail.

"I'm here Id talk to you about does it does affect children.'' Wussow told the group of 10 inmates. Wussow* recently published a book entitled "Outside the Lines." which details revealing memories of an abusive alcoholic mother and a foster care system that failed her and led to four years of sexual abuse.

"My mother was the abuser in our household," she said. Wussow. added that alcohol was the destructive force that ripped her family apart.

She left no detail unturned, telling the men about her older brothers, both of whom also struggled with alcoholism.

"Life has gone, really nowhere for him," she said of her oldest brother.

Her youngest brother was severely injured after crashing a motorcycle while driving drunk. Wussow also believes another brother suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. . "They've paid some huge, huge prices," she said.

Wussow hasn't touched alcohol for 21 years and has never used drugs, she said. She is the mother of three from a broken marriage and a failed relationship.

She was granted custody of her eldest daughters, Shannon, 26, and Sara, 24, after her marriage fell apart. The father of her youngest son. Alex, 13, is now serving a five-year sentence in prison for drug possession.

During her speech at the jail, the inmates asked questions and commended Wussow for her determination. Wussow simply chalked it up to her stubbornness and "my anger, I think." Wussow reminded the men that it was their choices that led them to a jail cell.

She also said they can learn from their mistakes. "We aren't branded with "felon" at birth," she said. "And who can do a better job?" she asked the inmates.

"You or the system?" The inmates responded with a resounding "us."

As Wussow wrapped up her presentation, the inmates offered a loud round of applause. Many of the men look the opportunity to shake Wussow's hand and ask where they could get a copy of her book.