Mari Culver: To end domestic violence, we must all work together


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Let me tell you about Carol.

Carol grew up in eastern Iowa, one of six closely knit children born to a stable, loving couple. She was a very bright young woman, graduating magna cum laude from a state university. Carol was a beautiful woman: porcelain skin and lovely red hair, with a sweet, gentle way about her.

Carol married her college sweetheart. After graduation, they established successful careers and started a family, and Carol began work on a master’s degree. From outward appearances, they were an All-American family — your ideal neighbors and friends.

In May 2004, Carol was found dead in the family van, engine running, in the garage. Although it appeared to be a carbon-monoxide poisoning, it was determined that Carol had been strangled to death before being placed in the car.

Carol had been murdered by her husband.

Carol was only 32 when she was killed. She left behind four beautiful young children — the oldest just a first-grader, the youngest just a couple of months old. She also left her extended family and her hometown grieving, unable to comprehend the senseless death of such a loving young mother.

I know all of this because Carol was my first cousin.

Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It happens to woman of all ages, races, religions, and financial circumstances. Its victims are well-educated, as well as women who dropped out of school. It occurs in big cities and in the more rural areas of our state.

As Iowa’s first lady, it has been my privilege to meet with — and learn from — the many women and children across the state who have sought the services of domestic-violence shelters. The misperception is that domestic violence is something that happens to other people, or only affects lower-income women.

This perception is not supported by fact.

While murder of a spouse or child is the most horrific act of domestic violence, every type of domestic violence is a crime that affects society in countless ways. Since 1995, 180 women and children have been killed in domestic violence crimes in Iowa. In 2008, Iowa crisis hotlines received more than 82,000 calls for help from victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

What can we, as good citizens of our state, do to stop domestic violence? Participate in local events. Learn about the many wonderful crisis centers and shelters throughout Iowa that provide shelter and critical support services to the victims of domestic violence.

A statewide resource is Iowa’s 24-hour hotline, 1-800-942-0333, which is answered by certified domestic violence advocates who provide crisis support, answer questions, and provide resource referrals.

A community partnership in Lamoni is working to develop strategies to make the town safer. Law enforcement, school officials, attorneys, and judges are all involved in the partnership.

It is an ambitious undertaking that could be a model for other communities across the state: Bring together diverse segments of the community to work toward solutions to end domestic violence. I commend them and wish them great success. Lamoni understands; domestic violence affects us all.

Mari Culver is Iowa’s first lady.

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