IOWA CITY — Lois Cox has worked with hundreds of domestic abuse survivors as a professor in the University of Iowa’s clinical law programs.
Not only did Cox help clients going through difficult times, she taught law students important skills. In the course of a semester, students would work with several clients, handling abuse cases from beginning to end and going to court several times.
“It was a very good teaching vehicle for students,” Cox said. “I always felt like I was teaching the next generation of lawyers how important this work is.”
Cox was honored for her work advocating for domestic abuse victims last month with the Pat Meyer Vision Award from the Johnson County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The coalition recognizes one person every year who has worked toward creating community responses to domestic violence.
Cox received the award at a ceremony Oct. 24 at the Iowa City Public Library.
It was a surprise and an honor, Cox said.
“I never knew (Pat Meyer) well, but I observed her from afar — all the work she did on behalf of domestic violence survivors and building the Johnson County Domestic Violence shelter into the institution it is today,” Cox said.
Houston native loves Iowa
Cox didn’t begin her career as a lawyer.
She earned a master’s degree in English literature from Tufts University in Massachusetts in 1973 and thought she would go on to get her Ph.D. and become an English professor.
But she changed course and went to law school at Boston University.
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She then worked with Iowa Legal Aid for eight years before applying for a job at the University of Iowa, where she spent the rest of her career.
Cox, who grew up in Houston, said moving to Iowa was the “absolute greatest thing.”
Cox and her husband, Jeff Cox, moved to Iowa in the 1970s, when he was looking for a job that fit his Ph.D. in British history.
About 500 people were in that job market, Cox recalled, with five jobs available. Jeff got the one in Iowa City.
“I thought coming to Iowa was like winning the lottery. I’ve loved it ever since,” she said, adding that she did have to look up the state on a map before they moved.
Cox said her decades of work with domestic abuse victims has always been a team effort, and it was a privilege working in the clinical law programs.
“It was always a group endeavor,” she said.
Changes needed to protect victims
While Iowa has made progress on domestic violence laws, Cox said, there is room for improvement.
For one, court-ordered protective orders can be in place up to a year, but that’s not long enough, she said. Survivors of domestic abuse need more protection, Cox said.
Survivors can go back to court to seek another protective order but must prove the order still is needed. The abuser has to be served legal papers again, and both parties have to go back to court.
It would be nice, Cox said, not to do that and “stir the whole thing up.”
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Cox also would like to see the courts award temporary custody and child support to the domestic abuse survivor.
“The courts are really reluctant to go through the process of granting support,” Cox said. “They say, ‘Go file for divorce to do that.’ I think that’s because the courts regard it as burdensome to do it for just a year.”
Another positive change is a provision for pets in domestic abuse cases.
Cox said it’s surprising how many clients are reluctant to leave their situation because they fear for their pet’s safety.
Retirement, and what’s next
Cox retired in June and is beginning to think about how she will continue to work with domestic abuse survivors.
“It’s emotionally draining work, but it’s also very satisfying,” Cox said. “Working with clients is very rewarding. These women are like everyone else, and they’re having a very difficult time in their life. ... They’re so courageous.”
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