Domestic Violence Forum offers 'better, stronger' approach to tragic problem

By Lin Lofley

A tragedy that struck close to home for the UT Southwestern Medical Center community in January was remembered at the Karen Smith Memorial Domestic Violence Forum, which was held Oct. 7 to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to honor Ms. Smith.

The observation was a time for the community to come together and build awareness and a movement towards safe and healthy relationships for all individuals and families. Ms. Smith, an Executive Assistant in the office of Dr. Bruce Meyer, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs, was fatally assaulted in a South Campus parking garage.

Dallas Mayor Michael S. Rawlings, keynote speaker at the Karen Smith Memorial Domestic Violence Forum, addresses the overflow crowd gathered for the Oct. 7 event.
Dallas Mayor Michael S. Rawlings, keynote speaker at the Karen Smith Memorial Domestic Violence Forum, addresses the overflow crowd gathered for the Oct. 7 event.

Since that tragedy Dallas Mayor Michael S. Rawlings has championed efforts to call attention to domestic violence. Earlier this year, Mayor Rawlings launched a city initiative meant to curb domestic violence. In March, more than 5,000 people attended an open-air rally at City Hall – Dallas Men Against Abuse – to denounce the epidemic.

Mayor Rawlings was the keynote speaker at the Smith Forum, which also focused on the serious public health threat that domestic violence poses to millions of Americans in their homes and offices.

He addressed the crowd packed into a lecture hall below Eugene McDermott Plaza and lauded UT Southwestern’s effort “to turn a tragedy into something that makes us better and stronger, as opposed to something that brings us down.”

For the UT Southwestern community, Mayor Rawlings said, “An awareness of this death, in this place, is a hugely important moment, because now you can all be disciples and advocates on the issue of domestic violence.”

Mayor Rawlings reviewed his recently announced three-pronged program to address the problem of local domestic violence:

“We have to make sure that women are safe right now,” he said. “In bad situations, we need to get them out and into a safe environment. We have some good shelters in this town, but we don’t have enough. We have to address that.

“We also need to do a better job in the criminal justice system. We have the Dallas Police Department, then we have the District Attorney’s Office – they’re the prosecutors, who decide whether to take cases to trial – and we have the court system, which I would not call ‘swift.’ We all got together to discuss domestic violence, and it didn’t take us long to realize that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

“But ultimately,” Mayor Rawlings said, “It’s about culture change.  It doesn’t come overnight. Our churches have got to play a part, and schools must be a part of it, but they already have so much to do. I’m focused on that young man growing up.”

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern Medical Center, moderated a panel discussion that included Dr. C. Eliot deGravelles, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, who sees patients and supervises trainees at Parkland Memorial Hospital’s Psychiatry Consult Service, Parkland Behavioral Health Clinic, and at Nexus Recovery Center; Jan E. Langbein, CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support; and Crayton Webb, Board President of HE Respects Others (HeROs), the Men’s Auxiliary of Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support.

Ms. Langbein offered perhaps the most forceful recognition of what the victims of domestic violence face.

“Last December, Karen Cox Smith did something that she was told for 18 years that she should never do,” Ms. Langbein said. “That was to walk into a police station and say, ‘I’m here because he hit me. I’m here because he puts his hands around my throat.’

“And having no idea what that cost would be to her and to her children, she did what we as a society had been telling her to do all along: Get out. We have to stop asking, ‘Why did she leave?’ and ask the man why he does it.”

In the audience were two of Ms. Smith’s closest friends, who are still dealing with the events of January.

“This was a terrific event, with some very real passion exhibited by a number of presenters and the audience about solving the issue of domestic violence,” said Dr. Meyer, who delivered a moving eulogy at a memorial service for Ms. Smith in February. “We all need to be engaged every day to stop this behavior pattern. It starts at home with how we raise our children, but it extends to all parts of our lives.”

Michelle Adkins, Executive Assistant to Dr. Meyer, was a longtime friend of Ms. Smith. “I’m still so very angry because she did all the things that she was supposed to do,” Ms. Adkins said. “Karen was very vocal about the things that she was going through, and I just still feel like the system failed her.

“I’m doing better now, but it’s still very difficult.”

And if reactions on campus are any indication, then more will need to be addressed going forward.

“Since Karen Smith’s death, we have noticed a three- to fourfold increase in women coming to our program about this,” said Patrick Tiner, Director of UT Southwestern’s Employee Assistance Program. “Many would probably not have come in had this tragedy not happened, so in her memory we can see other people getting assistance.”

The Employee Assistance at UT Southwestern offers help in a safe and private atmosphere and is committed to maintaining strict confidentiality. Counseling sessions and referrals to other resources are available for employees and their eligible family members. Daytime and evening appointments are offered, and a licensed professional may be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. UT Southwestern employees in need may call the EAP at 1-800-386-9156 or 214-648-5330. 

Karen Smith
May 8, 1972 – January 8, 2013

While tragic, the death of Karen Smith, a victim of domestic violence in a UT Southwestern Medical Center parking garage, has become a catalyst for change.

Ms. Smith’s story helped prompt Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to lead a public crusade to end domestic violence, including a Men Against Abuse Rally at City Hall that drew more than 5,000 attendees and launched a robust local and national media campaign.

Ms. Smith was the Executive Assistant to Dr. Bruce Meyer, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs at UT Southwestern, and a devoted mother. She left behind three children – Alexandria, Trevor, and Drake – with whom she spent countless hours, supporting them in all their activities.

Ms. Smith was hard-working, intelligent, caring, and a very thoughtful person who, despite her hardships, loved life, always wore a smile, and made special efforts to help others.

“Karen was uniformly gracious and never seemed to lose patience with anyone – despite the demands of the job. She never treated anyone like they were a stranger, and she had a way of making everyone feel special,” Dr. Meyer said. “She always brought that warmth to the situation. It did not matter what she was doing; she always made time for anyone who needed assistance.”