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100 miles from the nearest shelter. The story of domestic violence in rural Iowa

More than 6,400 cases of domestic violence were reported in Iowa in 2016

Feb 24, 2019 at 3:00 pm
    Jones County Deputy Jason Feldmann, photographed at the Jones County Courthouse in Anamosa on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

    For Jones County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Feldmann, responding to a domestic disturbance often brings back memories of chaos and violence.

    Growing up in Delaware County, Feldmann said he was primarily raised by his father, but spent roughly every other week with his mother and her abusive boyfriend.

    “When I was young, my mom got beat up by her boyfriend all the time,” he said. “It went on for years and happened pretty much every time I was there. (The boyfriend) was never arrested or anything for the abuse, and if there were services out there, my mom didn’t take them.”

    Today, a sheriff’s deputy of more than six years, Feldmann said when he responds to the scene of a domestic violence incident, he can offer the victim understanding that others might not.

    “I tell them about my experience — tell them about my mom — to make them feel more comfortable,” he said. “Does it help them any? I’m not sure, but when they say to me, ‘You don’t understand,’ well, I kind of do. I might not be a victim or the perp, but I’ve watched it happen.”

    On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That equates to 10 million women and men being abused in one year.

    In Iowa, data from the Department of Public Safety shows 6,431 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2016 — the most recent year data is available — and of those, about 78 percent were from women and roughly 22 percent from men.

    In many cases, domestic violence victims need help to either stay safe in their situations or separate themselves from their abusers — help that is often available in Iowa’s metropolitan areas, but not as easily accessed in the state’s rural counties.

    In a 2011 study examining the distribution of resources among urban and rural areas, Corrine Peek-Asa, associate dean of research at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, concluded that rural victims of intimate partner violence had significantly less access to help and support. Such services would include access to physical and mental health services, advocacy programs and access to emergency shelters or housing assistance programs, as well as programs that offer financial or child care assistance.

    “Access to health, prevention and protection services in the United States is disparate based on population density: rural women have less access than urban women to domestic violence shelters, physical and mental health professionals, law enforcement and judicial personnel,” Peek-Asa wrote.

    “Rural women are also nearly twice as likely to be turned away from services because of the insufficient number of programs and inadequate staffing of community-based health programs; they also face barriers to accessing services because of geographic distance and isolation.”

    The study surveyed 1,478 women who lived in either urban or rural communities in Iowa and found that “women in urban and large rural towns reported the lowest prevalence of intimate partner violence, whereas women in small rural towns and isolated rural areas reported the highest prevalence,” with women living in isolated areas reporting “a higher frequency and much higher severity of abuse.”

    In another study published in 2012, author Britt E. Rhodes, an associate professor of social work at Luther College in Decorah, looked at the practices used to address domestic violence and noted that victims who live in rural areas face several significant barriers when it comes to accessing supportive services.

    “Over the last 15 years, three common themes have endured and represent ongoing barriers for domestic violence survivors in rural areas in the United States: (1.) rural isolation (including physical and geographic isolation), (2.) service limitations and (3.) collective attitudes and belief systems in rural areas,” Rhodes wrote.

    The assistant professor referred to a study in which more than 100 women who were interviewed in a rural-based shelter described physical, social and geographical isolation, as well as limited access to transportation and communication resources.

    In addition, Rhodes said it is not uncommon for those living in the rural areas to “live several miles from the nearest paved road” and “100 miles from the nearest shelter.”

    “The biggest issue that we run into is how to reach people and get services to them,” said Nadia Doubiany, a client advocacy services coordinator for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, which oversees eight counties in southeast Iowa. “We may have advocates in each county, but each county is a huge service area.”

    “Transportation is the biggest obstacle,” said Ben Brustkern, executive director at the Cedar Valley Friends of the Family, a victim-advocacy organization that covers a 20-county area in Eastern and Northeastern Iowa. “And I wouldn’t doubt that distance and that lack of transportation keeps a lot of victims from even calling for help.”

    To reach those people, Brustkern said organizations will need to focus their efforts on building bigger volunteer pools that are willing to not only deliver mobile services but offer transportation to those without access.

    Over the past decade, funding cuts to human services, such as advocacy programs for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, have forced a consolidation of resources.

    When I was young, my mom got beat up by her boyfriend all the time. It went on for years and happened pretty much every time I was there.

    - Jason Feldmann

    Jones County Sheriff’s Deputy


    In 2012, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller divided Iowa into six service regions. Within each area, the state would fund regional emergency shelter programs and comprehensive domestic violence programs and sexual assault programs.

    The regional plan went into effect in 2015 and also advocated a shift in the way services were delivered — moving away from the use of emergency shelters and veering toward a mobile outreach model where services are offered in the field.

    “In general, each of the programs in each of the six regions are covering areas that range in size from six to 20 counties,” said Adam Stark, director of member services for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

    Many of the programs, he said, have outreach or satellite offices throughout their regions, but often do not have enough advocates or resources to cover the entire area.

    “The idea of the mobile advocacy model was to meet people where they are and to extend the reach of these programs into the rural communities,” Stark said. “But more advocates are necessary to cover each service region and reach into those rural towns.”

    He added that victims who live in remote areas face added barriers of distance, isolation and the possible lack of transportation as well as the effects of poverty, which can make accessing resources difficult, if not impossible.

    “It’s the same issues we’re seeing with everything else,” he said. “But with domestic violence, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of transportation, the lack of mental health care and substance abuse treatment, the lack of affordable child care, the lack of advocates — all of these things are necessary to ensure we are meeting a person’s basic needs and helping them regain their footing.”

    And though some organizations, such as the Family Crisis Center in Sioux Center, which offers domestic violence services to a 17-county area in northwest Iowa, say they are in good shape when it comes serving their clients, they acknowledge more still needs to be done.

    “For our clients, accessibility to our program is there consistently throughout all of our counties because of our mobile advocacy,” said Jessica Rohrs, chief operating officer at Family Crisis Center. “We have the staff to make sure that our response time is within an hour anywhere in our service area. That said, there is always more work to do, and there are always more people to reach and always more victims and survivors to connect with.”

    In her study, Luther College’s Rhodes advocated a coordinated community response to domestic violence that includes creating a “coherent philosophical approach that emphasizes the safety of victims,” standardizing practices among domestic violence response teams, the consistent exchange of information among the various entities and agencies that respond to and address domestic violence, sanctions for the offenders and the allotment of resources to meet the needs of victims and children.


    “It’s really about addressing people’s basic needs,” said Stark, of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “People need money for housing, they need money for child care, and economic abuse is such a huge piece of domestic violence. So we can say that we want to help people feel safe, and we can do all the safety planning in the world, but if they have nowhere to go, or no home or no income, how is that person going to feel safe from violence if their basic needs are not being met?”

    Stark said in looking at the most vulnerable communities and working to comprehensively address their needs, that success would bleed into all communities.

    “If we focus our energy on helping people with the most barriers, if we figure out how to help them and achieve that, then we can change it for everyone else,” he said. “Everyone else gets their needs met if we can figure out how to lift up the person who needs the most help.”

    But that can’t be done without resources, he said.

    “A lot of time, I find myself saying I don’t know what to do next,” Stark added.

    “There isn’t enough to go around, and I don’t think that is going to change any time soon. All of these programs are doing the best they can with what they have, but without real investment into these programs and without really delving into and addressing the root problems, we’re essentially putting a Band-Aid on it and hoping it sticks.”

    l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell


    Where to call in Iowa



    Crisis Intervention and Advocacy Center

    Office: 515-993-4095

    Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 800-400-4884

    Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 800-550-0004


    Counties served: Adams, Adair, Clarke, Dallas, Decatur, Guthrie, Madison, Ringgold, Taylor and Union Counties

    Services: Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, transitional housing


    ACCESS, or Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support

    Office: 515-292-0500

    Crisis Line: 888-983-2533


    Counties served: Boone, Green, Marshall, Story, Tama

    Services: Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, transitional housing

    Cedar Rapids


    Office: 319-365-1458

    Crisis Line: 800-208-0388


    Counties served: Black Hawk, Benton, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Jones and Linn

    Services: Domestic abuse

    Deaf Iowans Against Abuse, or DIAA

    V\VP: 319-531-7719

    Crisis Hotline: V\VP: 319-531-7719

    Text ONLY: 515-661-4015



    Counties served: All 99

    Services: Offers services for the hearing-impaired and deaf-blind for domestic abuse, sexual abuse and other violent crimes

    Council Bluffs

    Catholic Charities Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program

    Office: 712-256-2059

    Crisis Line: 888-612-0266 or 888-612-0266


    Counties served: Audubon, Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie and Shelby

    Services: Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, emergency shelter


    SafePath Survivor Resources

    Office: 563-468-2310

    Crisis Line in Iowa: 866-921-3354

    Crisis Line in Illinois: 309-797-1777


    Counties served: Clinton, Jackson, Louisa, Muscatine, and Scott

    Services: Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, emergency shelter, human trafficking


    Helping Services-Domestic Abuse Resources Center

    Office: 563-387-1720

    Crisis Line: 800-383-2988


    Counties served: Allamakee, Bremer, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard, Winneshiek

    Services: Domestic abuse

    Des Moines

    Children and Families of Iowa-Domestic Violence Services

    Office: 515-243-6147

    Crisis Line: 800-942-0333


    Counties served: Polk, Warren

    Services: Domestic abuse, emergency shelter


    LUNA, or Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanecer

    Office: 515-271-5060

    Crisis Line: 866-256-7668


    Counties served: All 99

    Services: Sexual assault and domestic violence services for Iowa’s Latino population


    Monsoon Asian and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity

    Office: 515-288-0881

    Crisis Line: 866-881-4641


    Counties served: All 99

    Services: Domestic abuse and sexual abuse services for Asian/Pacific Islander communities in Iowa


    Nisaa African Family Services

    Office: 515-255-5430


    Services: Domestic abuse and sexual abuse services for African immigrant and refugee communities

    Fort Dodge

    Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center

    Office: 515-955-2273

    Crisis Line: 888-356-5006

    Counties served: Boone, Butler, Cerro Gordo, Franklinn, Floyd, Greene, Grundy, Hamilton Hancock, Hardin, Humboldt, Kossuth, Marshall, Mitchell, Story, Tama, Webster, Winnebago, Worth and Wright

    Services: Domestic violence, sexual assault, emergency shelter

    Iowa City

    Domestic Violence Intervention Program

    Office: 319-351-1042

    Crisis Line: 800-373-1043


    Counties served: Cedar, Des Moines, Henry, Iowa, Johnson, Lee, Van Buren, Washington

    Services: Domestic abuse, emergency shelter

    Mason City

    Crisis Intervention Service

    Office: 641-424-9071

    Crisis Line: 800-479-9071


    Counties served: Butler, Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Franklin, Grundy, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Humboldt, Kossuth, Mitchell, Webster, Winnebago, Worth, Wright

    Services: Domestic Abuse, Sexual Abuse


    Crisis Center and Women’s Shelter

    Office: 641-683-1750

    Crisis Line: 800-464-8340


    Counties served: Appanoose, Davis, Jasper, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lucas, Mahaska, Marion, Monroe, Poweshiek, Wapello, Wayne

    Services: Domestic abuse

    Sioux City

    Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

    Office: 712-277-0131

    Crisis Line: 800-982-7233


    Counties served: Plymouth and Woodbury counties in Iowa; Dakota and Thurston counties in Nebraska; Union County in South Dakota

    Services: Domestic abuse, emergency shelter

    Sioux Center

    Family Crisis Center

    Office: 712-722-4483

    Crisis Line: 800-382-5603


    Counties served: Buena Vista, Carroll, Calhoun, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford, Dickinson, Emmet, Ida, Lyon, Monona, O’Brien, Osceola, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Sioux and Sac

    Services: Domestic abuse, homicide


    Meskwaki VIctim Services

    Office: 641-484-4444

    Crisis Line: 855-840-7362

    Website: http:

    Serves: Meskwaki Nation

    Services: Domestic abuse, sexual abuse for the Meskwaki Nation


    Amani Community Services

    Office: 319 232-5660

    Crisis Line: 888-983-2533


    Counties served: Black Hawk, Linn

    Services: Domestic/sexual abuse outreach for the African-American community


    Cedar Valley Friends of the Family

    Office: 319-352-1108

    Crisis Line: 800-410-7233


    Counties served: Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Chickasaw, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Howard, Jones, Linn and Winneskiek

    Services: Emergency shelter

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