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Still looking for a sea change

Still looking for a sea change

It looks like a Christmas card. A little brown-haired girl in a colorful striped sweater is giving a thumbs up in front of a Christmas tree and a pile of presents. She is all dimples, smiling so big because she’s going to turn around and dive right into those gifts.

It’s a precious photo on a thank you card we received at the Press months ago. Its sender appreciated our coverage of the girl’s story. The inscription inside the card says, “Now she walks in the land of truth and grace.” Every once in awhile when I organize the papers that stack up on my desk, this card resurfaces. It’s a bit jarring. But, I can’t bring myself to toss it out, and obviously I haven’t stashed it out of sight in a drawer full of files collecting dust. This picture has also been posted in the entry to the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office on top of the courthouse. “THANK YOU!!!!” is printed large beneath the photo. In much smaller type beneath that is her name, Evelyn Miller. The sheriff and his deputies never gave up on her case.

Evelyn was the 5-year-old Washington Elementary girl killed by her mother’s live-in boyfriend in 2005. He’s now serving two life sentences after being convicted in March of murder and sexual assault.

Her story would seem to be over, but it’s not. It continues as part of a larger narrative that doesn’t end. I’d very much like it to end, but week after week, year after year, I keep adding another story to the ongoing series. I’ve covered many more sexual abuse cases since the Evelyn Miller murder trial wrapped up. One involved a grandfather who appeared to be pretty wellrespected. He was convicted of sexually abusing a granddaughter. The accused in two of the other cases also were family to the child victims. Two others had men enticing unrelated children.

Then, there are the other stories. One Charles City man pummels and strangles his live-in girlfriend and goes to prison. Another hits his live-in girlfriend with a torch tank and a hammer. A Nora Springs man is convicted after shooting his girlfriend’s engagement ring.

Most of these cases are about violence at home, where children and partners should feel the safest, most protected.

Here is where I feel compelled to tell you to not turn away and ignore this. It’s the kind of plea that is expected during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which comes to an end this week. It’s a message that should include encouraging people needing help to call Crisis Intervention Service’s 24-hour crisis lines: domestic abuse 855-424-9133, sexual assault 800-479-9071. You are not alone. Help is available.

It’s a message that is being passed between generations at this point. But as important as that message is, it’s just treating the wound. The crisis continues and putting the onus on victims to muster incredible courage and act is not nearly enough. The issue is not why she didn’t leave, its why is he abusing her? How do we stop him.

Vigorous prosecution is definitely warranted and you would think that would make a difference. But, I question how serious our state laws take this when a basic domestic abuse assault charge is punishable by to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $625 while first-time possession of marijuana is punishable by six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. That’s skewed priorities.

Vigilance is another message put out to stem this violence. We pass this from generation to generation as well: Watch for general warning signs such as a person being anxious to please or afraid of their partner, going along with everything a partner says or does, checking in often to report location and activity and talking about their partner’s temper or jealousy. If that partner is making frequent, harassing phone call, that could be a sign just as somebody wearing long sleeves in the summer, sunglasses indoors and excusing frequent injuries as “accidents.”

We’ve been sending those messages for years now and we need to keep it up. I confess at this moment, I don’t know how to conclude this note to you. I don’t have answers, I have hope — hope that something will touch our hearts as a society to stop the violence, because we really need a sea change.

In the meantime, I’ll keep adding stories to the narrative, and Evelyn’s picture will continue to float around my desk.

Reach Chris Baldus at [email protected]

Chris Baldus

Managing Editor

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