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Partner Spotlight: Raising Awareness and Support for DVSA Through Rodeo

Learn about a nationwide program that engages local sheriffs’ departments and advocacy programs like The Friendship Center in raising awareness about intimate partner violence through the sport of rodeo.

Multi-day rodeo events are the centerpiece of some of the busiest weekends of the year in Montana communities of every size, including several in The Friendship Center’s service region. Because of the enduring popularity of summer rodeos, they’re a prime opportunity to raise awareness about important issues, as well as support for the local causes addressing them. Since 2012, a nationwide program called Man Up Crusade has been using the sport of rodeo to do exactly that.

Launched in Nampa, Idaho, by Kieran and Jeanie Donahue, the K Donahue Foundation (which operates under the Man Up Crusade moniker) is dedicated to bringing awareness to the prevalence of domestic violence and ultimately stemming the cycle of abuse that is so often transmitted from one generation to the next. One of the primary ways the program does this is through “purple nights”—typically organized by partners from local sheriffs' offices, domestic violence advocacy and shelter programs, and other community groups during professional rodeos and bull riding events.

The Friendship Center is grateful to be the beneficiary of charitable efforts at three local rodeos this summer, including Man Up Crusade funds raised as part of this year’s Last Chance Stampede Purple Night, happening July 26. Our partners at Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office have been at the helm of bringing purple night to our community for the past three years. To learn more about this effort to raise awareness for intimate partner violence and the importance of multi-disciplinary partnerships in ending violence, we invited Lewis & Clark County Undersheriff Brent Colbert to answer a few questions. Brent shares what he’s learned from his years of responding to domestic violence incidents and the importance of continuing to raise awareness.


Something we know from the educational aspect of our work is that people have varying levels of knowledge about domestic and sexual violence. How have your years in law enforcement shaped your understanding or even challenged your own preconceptions about interpersonal violence?

BC: I was raised to not treat people badly and believe in that value completely. I always thought it should be easy to leave a bad situation. I know now through years of experience and training that it is not easy for someone to leave a bad situation or even turn it in or talk about it. I think that’s the most misunderstood part of intimate partner violence and there still needs to be more education.

We certainly get asked how often law enforcement gets calls about partner or family member assault (PFMA) and we’re sure you get this question as well. Since you’ve spent some years both on patrol and supervising patrol staff, how would you answer that? Has the volume of PFMA calls changed at all through the years?

BC: PFMA is still one of the most prevalent incidents law enforcement is called to. I do not think it is because there is more of this violence, but because of education and people learning that it is not okay to be in these situations and that it is okay to report them.

Man Up Crusade is a relatively new nationwide effort to raise awareness and funds for local domestic violence shelter and advocacy programs like The Friendship Center. Last Chance Stampede is not the only rodeo in our region that participates, but it is one of just a few in Montana. When did you first learn about this program? And, for folks in communities with rodeos that don’t yet participate, but could, what would you say to encourage them to get involved?

BC: I first heard about the Man Up Crusade through the Western States Sheriffs’ Association. I am friends with the sheriff and his wife (Kieran and Jeanie Donahue) who started the program. Their lives were very much impacted by domestic violence. If you look, most sports associations have something they support. As the Donahues are involved in rodeo, they felt that would be the way they can get the message out.

It is very easy to get rodeos involved. They need to have someone coordinating it, contact Man Up Crusade, and have an advocacy program to help.

Have you seen awareness efforts have an impact in reducing or preventing violent crimes? Or is it too difficult to correlate preventive work with outcomes like better reporting rates and/or less injuries or fatalities from intimate partner violence?

BC: I don’t know any numbers or percentages, but I think it is a great way to get the message out and raise more and more awareness. Education and awareness is always a good thing. If it is able to help one person, it is worth it.

You’ve worked in Helena for several years, but also in smaller communities in Lewis and Clark County. How would you compare the safety challenges between larger and smaller communities here? Thinking of domestic violence specifically, do you think the challenges for victims/survivors vary case by case regardless of location, or does proximity to services make a difference?

BC: I really do think proximity to services makes a difference. In outlying areas victims/survivors are isolated, which makes it a real challenge to make a change.

Two county sheriffs' offices in our tri-county service region participate in Man Up Crusade, and that level of engagement is significant. Besides raising awareness about violence itself, these local efforts help bring attention to the different agencies that work together to support our community. In your mind, how important is the partnership between law enforcement and agencies like The Friendship Center in keeping communities healthy and ultimately preventing future violence?

BC: The partnership between law enforcement and community programs is vital. We are all a team and the only way to educate and try to keep this violence from happening is to combat it as a team.


If you’re involved in your community’s rodeo or another event, and want to raise awareness for domestic violence and local efforts dedicated to addressing it, visit Man Up Crusade’s website to request more information about bringing this program to your community.

The Friendship Center is just one of many organizations in our community working to ensure everyone is supported with care and dignity. Each month, we highlight some of the fantastic people and organizations we partner and collaborate with in our email newsletter. Sign up to make sure you don't miss a partner spotlight and learn more about some of the services available in our community.


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