Representatives from the Family Crisis Centers held a meeting at Santa Maria Vineyard & Winery Tuesday to discuss the reorganization of services offered for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The four — (from left) Shari Kastein, Patty Ritchie, Stacey Moran and Sandy Altman — invited Carroll residents to serve on an advisory board that would inform the centers of area needs.
Representatives from the Family Crisis Centers held a meeting at Santa Maria Vineyard & Winery Tuesday to discuss the reorganization of services offered for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The four — (from left) Shari Kastein, Patty Ritchie, Stacey Moran and Sandy Altman — invited Carroll residents to serve on an advisory board that would inform the centers of area needs.
December 5, 2013



Thanksgiving isn't just a celebration for Shari Kastein's family.

Almost 30 years ago, on the eve of Thanksgiving, Kastein, now the executive director of Family Crisis Centers of Northwest Iowa, nearly lost her 15-month-old daughter after the child was abducted by a family friend.

"What kind of pleasure would someone get from that?" she said. "She was brutally sodomized, molested and left to die. He stuffed her body in his car; she was unconscious, almost comatose, and it was cold."

Police officers found Kastein's daughter after pulling the man over for driving over a center line. As his case was prosecuted, though, Kastein said she didn't feel as though she was included in the process. Whenever she asked questions, she was told everything was fine.

A doctor told her that no matter how long the man's sentence was, Kastein's daughter's would be longer. "She'd have a lifetime of healing," Kastein recalled the doctor saying.

Then, she found out how much time the man would spend in prison.

"He did two years, eight months and six days for nearly killing that little girl," she said. "She's still recovering. Still, to this day."

That, paired with Kastein's own experience as a domestic-abuse victim, guided her decision to become an advocate for other victims.

"I said, 'Something's gotta change here,'" she said. "I want to be a voice for victims and be able to talk about what happened."

Kastein's decision to devote her life to abuse victims wasn't an easy one - and it scared her father.

She recalled his words: "I don't want you involved with this. It's so dangerous. Please don't get in the way. Your life was spared. Your daughter's life was spared. Don't do this."

She was determined, though, and spent the next decades doing just that. Kastein, who holds the designation of World Humanitarian - an honor also given to Mother Teresa - eventually settled in Iowa after marrying a farmer, but she didn't stop what she was doing.

"My board of directors gets nervous when I get bored," she joked.

Now, after a recent reorganization placed the Sioux Center Family Crisis Centers in charge of abuse-victim services in Carroll, Kastein wants to keep moving forward.

With the announcement in July 2012 from the Attorney General's office that domestic-violence and sexual-assault programs across the state would be reorganized, several offices were closed - only the strongest ones were continued, Kastein said. The redrawn regional lines left Carroll County without a "mothership," and the Family Crisis Centers in Sioux Center offered to step in.

The change also shifted how services in Carroll and elsewhere are offered - now, there are advocates who work only with domestic-abuse victims, and others who work only with sexual-assault victims. That allows them to be more specifically trained and to spend more time with victims, Kastein said. Although there was only one advocate in Carroll before the change, there are now three: one to focus on domestic abuse, one on sexual assault and one on minority outreach.

At a meeting held at the Santa Maria Vineyard & Winery Tuesday, Kastein and several other representatives from the centers discussed the services the centers offer and the types of people who use them.

Although it's not considered as much as domestic abuse and sexual assault, human trafficking is a problem throughout the state as well, Kastein said - to the point that the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has an agent in each of the state's four zones dedicated to just trafficking cases.

Kastein and Patty Ritchie, a minority outreach advocate for the centers who covers four counties, described people - often immigrants - who are forced to perform sexual acts to be transported into the country, to avoid having their families harmed or to receive a paycheck. She spoke of one woman who came from the Philippines to marry a farmer, who abused her in various ways before throwing her, naked, out of the house in the middle of winter.

"The reality is, (trafficking) is happening," Ritchie said. "I've seen this happen all too often with battered immigrants."

One audience member asked how abuse in the area can be prevented.

"It's like the war on poverty and the war on drugs," said Sandy Altman, domestic-abuse-victim advocate for the centers. "As long as there are relationships, there will be problems in relationships. We'd like to eradicate it, but it's not going to happen."

The best possibility for preventing future abuse, the centers' representatives said, is education.

"I believe little bullies grow up to become big bullies," Altman said. "What we do is like a Band-Aid, when someone comes in after being abused."

Stacey Moran, sexual-assault advocate with the centers, offers free training about bullying and abuse in schools to try to stop the problem before it happens.

The centers' representatives also discussed future possibilities for Carroll, including a space for a shelter nearby within the next few years.

Altman cited a statistic saying only 15 percent of domestic-violence victims ever seek help.

"But if you're that 15 percent, that's doggone important to you and your family," she said. "It's an important service, and we need it in Carroll."

In order to assess the area's needs, Kastein hopes to set up an advisory board with Carroll residents. She plans to periodically travel from Sioux Center and meet with them. Those interested in serving on the board can contact the Family Crisis Centers at 712-722-4404.

"I need people who have a good pulse on the community and can help guide me from the local perspective," she said. "We want to keep victim services front and center in the minds of everyone in Carroll County."