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First lady of Texas fights domestic violence with compassion

March 28, 2003

By Marianne May

The Family Abuse Center was buzzing with excitement Thursday as staff and board members awaited the arrival of Texas' first lady, Anita Perry.

A longtime advocate for family violence prevention, Perry was invited to tour the Family Abuse Center to help increase awareness of domestic abuse throughout Texas.

'Family abuse prevention is an extremely important issue,' Perry said. 'Unfortunately, the number [of abusive situations in Texas] is going up. I want to do whatever I can do to help.'

Perry said she has visited about half of the 70 abuse shelters in Texas, and she hopes to visit all of them eventually.

'They are all supported by truly wonderful communities,' she said.

The center serves six counties and gives shelter to women and children who have fled their abuser, many times escaping with only the clothing on their backs.

Deidra Simmons, executive director of the center, said Perry's visit helped 'immeasurably.'

'It helps us get the word out about domestic violence because it's both a national and local problem,' Simmons said. 'We need to make our communities safe.'

Perry has spoken out for domestic violence prevention programs throughout Texas. In October, Perry took part in the Silent Witnesses program, along with the Texas Council on Family Violence, where she unveiled 100 new life-size wooden silhouettes, each representing a woman killed by her intimate partner.

Her husband, Gov. Rick Perry, also has made efforts to end domestic abuse in Texas. He reactivated the Governor's Planning Council for STOP Violence Against Women in 2001, and he awarded $4.6 million in grants for projects to prevent and prosecute violence against women in July 2002, according to a press release.

Anita Perry said her passion for this issue stems partly from her career.

'I'm a nurse, so it's a natural fit for me [to advocate this issue],' Perry said. She said that in her nursing career, she has seen the effects of abuse first hand, which is one of the reasons she is so committed to abuse prevention.

Perry toured the center facilities and offered encouragement to the staff members. Before she left, she gave Simmons several books for the children at the shelter.

The books reminded Simmons how important learning is to the Family Abuse Center, for both the victims and the abuser.

'[Family violence] is learned behavior, and what's learned can be unlearned,' she said.