Last November, Duluth prosecutor Mary Asmus had the privilege of receiving the Woman of Distinction Award for her work with helping female victims of domestic violence.
The award is an honor given annually by the YWCA, an organization designed to empower women all over the world to involve themselves in their communities, according to the organization's website.
“It was very nice to be recognized for my involvement, but very unexpected,” Asmus said.
According to the YWCA website, the Woman of Distinction Award recognizes women from communities all over the country that have helped to promote better lives for women.
Asmus helped build up the Duluth Model, a program dealing with domestic violence intervention in the community. She is currently developing an updated version of the Duluth Model, including a “tighter response” in the Witness Protection Program that will prevent victims from harassment.
“Things I’ve been able to do in Duluth wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t in this community,” Asmus said. “There was already a high interest in it when I got involved.”
In 1999, Asmus’s passion to help women was recognized in the PBS documentary A Woman’s Place. For three weeks, camera crews followed her as she worked, handling domestic violence cases around Duluth.
Asmus represented the United States in the film and was featured among women from South Africa and India, who were also making a stand for women in their communities.
“The program was made to determine if change would happen culturally or if the law could take an initiative to improve things for women,” Asmus said.
Asmus also helped create the criteria for grants in Duluth geared toward the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In 1994, the Clinton Administration passed VAWA, delivering $1.6 billion to states to use toward investigating and prosecuting crimes against female victims of domestic violence.
“Minnesota has always been in the lead in these things,” Asmus said. “They fund things that make a difference."
Before taking up the fight against domestic violence, Asmus had a passion for law. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree, Asmus decided to extend her studies and attend the UMN law school.
“Back then in the 70s and 80s there was no discretion of domestic violence,” Asmus said. “It wasn’t recognized as an issue then.”
Although her interest in law had little to do with the work she provided later on in life, Mary was always interested in the subject. In the early 1980s, Asmus was hired as the first female assistant city attorney in Duluth. During her interview, her boss sparked her interest in working with domestic violence cases.
“When he first mentioned working on domestic violence cases during my interview, I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Asmus said. “But, I found it very interesting, and I told him that.”
Asmus continues the fight against domestic violence in her community through her every day work.
“Change happens,” Asmus said. “There is still so much left to do, and I look forward to people who have interest of their own to make a difference.”
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