Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release - Wednesday, December 18, 2002.

Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.

Statement of Attorney General Tom Miller on
Creation of the State Family Violence Response Team

State Capitol - December 18, 2002

Statement of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller: 

Iowans have been among the leaders of the nation in providing high-quality, consistent and innovative services to battered women and their children ever since the formation of Domestic Abuse Intervention Projects beginning in the 1970s. Today we announce the beginning of another innovative approach to coordinate intervention, investigation, prosecution, and prevention of adult domestic violence and child abuse in Iowa - the State Family Violence Response Team.

This is truly is a life-and-death matter. From 1990-1999 in Iowa, 121 deaths were attributed to domestic abuse - and a total of 53 children were present at those killings. Meanwhile, child abuse reports have reached all-time highs - and over one-third of Iowa child abuse cases also involved domestic violence.

I am elated to have so many State Team members gathered for the first time. You represent a remarkable spectrum of agencies and professions that already have a strong record of cooperation -- and who now will move collaboration to a new level. This is an important milestone for us in Iowa, and we believe it is the first such statewide multi-disciplinary team in the nation to unify the efforts against child abuse and adult domestic abuse. This is a big step toward safer families in Iowa.

But we need to emphasize that inaugurating the State Team is just the first step of several that will follow swiftly in the coming months. Here is a snapshot of the entire program, which is made possible by a grant of almost $889,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice Violence Against Women Office. The components include:

A. Establish the State Family Violence Response Team. Staff include a project coordinator in the Attorney General's Office -- Carole Meade -- and staff from the Prosecuting Attorneys Training Coordinator, the Dept. of Public Health, the Dept. of Human Services, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, prevent Child Abuse Iowa, and the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. Today we mark creation of the State Team. [*See below for names of news conference speakers.]

B Create Local Family Violence Response Teams around the state who will have direct contact with families. Disciplines will include law enforcement, battered women advocates, child abuse workers, health officials, and local prosecutors. We are very pleased that the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center based in Fort Dodge has stepped forward to take a lead in creating the first Local Team to serve their six-county area - and we will be encouraging others to step forward.

C. Provide extensive training and protocols or optimal procedures for each of the disciplines to address the intersection between domestic violence and child abuse. Training materials will complement a curriculum already produced by ICADV and the Dept. of Human Services that is based on the writings of Susan Schechter of the University of Iowa and other pioneers in the field.

D. Provide mini-grants to local teams to foster start-up, and to Prevent Child Abuse Iowa local councils to develop programs working with domestic violence programs in their communities.

This whole project is based on growing understanding that there is a remarkably high coincidence of adult domestic violence and child abuse in families. Yes, we have known for two decades that adults and children are often victimized in the same family, but until recently little was made of this finding. For years, most communities and agencies have treated the abuse of a woman and abuse of a child in the same family as separate incidents having little to do with one another. Only recently have we recognized the profound impact of multiple forms of violence on a family.

Children who are abused in a family where an adult also is abused, or who witness domestic abuse, suffer considerably. They exhibit higher levels of childhood misbehavior and emotional and social problems. Children and women who live in the home with a batterer and abuser describe the experience as living in a war zone where they do not know who will be the next victim.

Historically, two distinct intervention systems have evolved, one to offer adult domestic violence services and the other to provide assistance to abused children -- each with its own law enforcement and judicial mandates, institutions, and funding. Having two separate systems can actually benefit the abuser when the systems do not share information about multiple forms of abuse within a home.

Here are several case-study examples illustrating how the two-system approach can fail both children and adult victims of violence:

  • A child wakes in the middle of the night with an ear infection and a temperature. The husband screams at the mother, "Shut the baby up, I'm trying to sleep." The mother tries to comfort the baby, but nothing works. The father gets up, takes the baby from her arms and hits the baby so hard across the bottom that she has a black and blue mark. The dilemma for the mother -- who is fearful of her husband because of a history of domestic violence -- is, "Do I take the baby to the doctor?" If she does, will her husband beat her up? If she doesn't, will the child be deprived of crucial medical assistance? If she takes the child in, will her husband lie and tell doctors she hit the baby? If she takes the child in, will the baby be taken away from her, even if doctors believe he hit the baby, because she failed to protect the baby from the father's abuse? These all are terrible choices and terrible fears.

  • A teenager appears in juvenile court for setting a series of small fires. The county attorney, the guardian ad litem, and the judge may have no idea that the child frequently witnesses domestic violence -- or is abused or neglected himself. Does the teenager receive the services and treatment he needs? Does the family?
  • A concerned citizen reports suspected child neglect. Is the situation evaluated properly and fully for possible domestic violence or child abuse? Is there an underlying, violent reason that the mother is unable to provide for her children adequately?

Today we are launching this project with a goal of providing training services especially to rural teams to reduce the possibility that situations like these will result in wrongly removing a child from a home, or failure to provide the most appropriate and necessary protection and intervention. A multi-disciplinary team will be better-equipped to assess violent or neglectful situations, and better able to provide for the safety and welfare of both mother and child.

It is fitting that we commission this new team on the threshold of the holidays - which unfortunately are a time of heightened tension and family violence in many homes. This is a project to make safer families in Iowa. I wish the Team all good fortune in its mission.

# # #

*State Team members making remarks at the State Capitol news conference:

Attorney General Tom Miller

Laurie Schipper, Director, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Steve Scott, Director, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa

Joyce DeHaan, Director, Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center, Fort Dodge

Deputy Attorney General Doug Marek is overseeing the project for the Attorney General's Office. Assistant Attorney General Melissa Biederman will represent the Prosecuting Attorneys Training Council in the project.

# # # #

Attorney General Home | News Release Home