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Not Surprised?

She Should Have Been Safe Here

This one just hits differently, and I’m sorry if my tone appears to be a bit more discouraged than usual from a perspective standpoint with the work and the mission of Styled with Strength.

This week we held the founding board of directors meeting for the Styled with Strength Foundation, I was over the moon with the level of talent and commitment that the women who I was surrounded by had, and truly honored that they were taking time out of their very busy schedules and lives to join me on this mission. From Vice-Presidents to Attorneys, I firmly believe that the wisdom this group has, is going to change the future of North Dakota and safety for women.

As I was sharing a brief update for Styled with Strength, I also had to share about what I was learning about domestic violence, the current state programming levels, the awareness or outreach programming, and the gaps that I saw where the foundation could fill in. Do not get me wrong, I believe that the current organizations in the State of North Dakota are doing an absolutely incredible job and are providing far beyond capacities and resources to women escaping violence in the community. However, where the biggest gap is, is within ourselves, in our neighborhoods, in our plan for prevention, and our hope that people will return to just being “North Dakota Nice”

I’ve attached the most recent Community Readiness Assessment Results for the State of North Dakota, as released by the Department of Health in 2022. While Stage 3 sounds like there’s traction and work being done in terms of community ownership to prevention of Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence, to be at stage 3. The Description of Stage 3, is actually the determination that the State of North Dakota Collectively has a Vague Awareness- that Sexual Assault and Violence is a problem within our state, or happens- Yet we aren’t quite sure where to go.

Little did I know that prior to our meeting that morning a woman had lost her life in the City of West Fargo. The home to Styled with Strength Headquarters. There were immediately hit pieces on local news outlets, with the mugshot of the suspected murderer, photos of the family dogs being transported to police vehicles, and listed as a developing story.

It’s gone.

No developments or article updates since August 10th at 2pm, no updates to if he had been charged officially, no release of information in terms of how the community could support the family and 3 children that are included in this horrible tragedy. I went to pull up the article to share with my husband the next day, and had to scroll and search specifically with the event descriptions to even access the article. And there I saw it, a Valley News Article that took my breath away, “Not Surprised”

Excuse me, what?

We’re not surprised that a woman was found dead on a Thursday morning in a high end neighborhood in West Fargo?

We aren’t surprised because the guy seemed quiet?

Or that she seemed friendly?

She was a mother of 3, a nurse, a woman who took care of others everyday, and our response as a community was “Not Surprised.” Are we surprised when Domestic Violence happens with a woman and baby being shot at our favorite West Fargo Mexican restaurant? Or do we read the news, determine that person was crazy and move on? I didn’t need the Department of Health Survey to tell me North Dakota had a “vague awareness” because our local news and neighbors themselves told us as much.

The news reels have been overrun with Fargo’s first ticket to the Little League World Series and a Def Leppard recap, but the story is lost, replaced by things that maybe felt a bit “safer”. Her family is trying to comprehend this tragic loss and making plans to honor their daughter, sister and friend. Yet we’ve moved on back to our vague awareness that Domestic Violence is bad, but when is it enough?

When do we step in? When do we educate? Help loved ones and women experiencing abuse seek shelter in a way that honors, is safe, and demonstrates that the entire North Dakota community is behind them? Goodness, I have never been more determined to build awareness in North Dakota, and committed that the work is just beginning. The mission of Styled with Strength is running full speed, and I sure hope you are willing to join us in this work.

It’s Messy, It’s Complicated, Hell- it might even be Inconvenient.

But it could have saved her life.

Please support the GoFundMe that has been established by Sonja’s family and we will keep you all updated for ways that we can care for this family who are experiencing a grief that we cannot even comprehend.


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