Chisholm, Minnesota is an Iron Range town of about 5,000, a place where the people you grow up with become your neighbors for life, the most popular guy gets elected mayor, and everybody knows each other’s dirt.
It’s where one woman, 40-year-old Shannon Jarvis, found herself in the role of the town pariah after City Pages published a cover story last September about her seemingly futile attempts to escape the control of an on-again, off-again boyfriend.
Townspeople felt the story – which chronicled dozens of police reports, bystanders’ eyewitness accounts of the boyfriend’s abuse, and law enforcement inaction – embarrassed Chisholm. Jarvis’ own family blamed her for staying in an abusive relationship for as long as she did.
She lived in a hotel for the first few days after the story ran. Then she holed up in her home for a couple months. If she had to go into town for anything, she wore a wig. It seemed like everyone knew her story. Some asked about her well-being, some accused her of lying for financial assistance, and most just stayed mum.
One year later, Jarvis says her life has completely turned around.
With the help of Range Women’s Advocates, she finally got a restraining order to stick. She no longer has any contact with her ex-boyfriend, and has resolved to avoid dating indefinitely.
Neighbors call the police on her behalf when they see her ex-boyfriend poking around her backyard when she’s not home. Since March, Jarvis has been working a new job as an activities aide in a nursing home, and her eldest daughter is in college. Her goal now is to send the rest of her children down the same path.
Looking back, the problems with having her story widely known were twofold: her own embarrassment for airing domestic violence in her private life, and trying to maintain her job working with children at the YMCA after it came out that her ex-boyfriend would stalk her at work. Parents weren’t happy.
“But the biggest thing is I don’t have to shut my shades anymore,” Jarvis says. “I’m not so paranoid at night that I have to shut my shades the minute the sun goes down. I can sit outside on my steps with my dogs. The only time I really look over my shoulder is when I go to Walmart, somewhere where I know there’s a possibility I’m going to run into him.”
A complete stranger’s support also helped. Minneapolis woman Terry Beale set up a GoFundMe for Jarvis after reading her story, and became her personal advocate. She and her girlfriends sent Jarvis’ family a meal for Thanksgiving and presents on Christmas. This summer, Beale and her husband visited Chisholm for the first time.
“By the time I started talking to her, she felt so kicked around, I don’t know if she even knew which way to turn at times,” Beale says. “But now she’s making decisions and moving forward, and a lot of that has to do with getting a new job. And because I think the town’s opinion has changed a bit. I don’t think she’s so scared anymore. I think she can see a future for herself and for her children now.”