Koeffler worked to curb domestic violence
JANESVILLE—Kris Koeffler began her long career with Rock County at a time when the community viewed domestic violence differently than it does today.
In the late 1970s, Janesville didn't have a shelter for battered women. Wisconsin had not yet passed a mandatory-arrest law. Police officers didn't want to respond to domestic-violence calls.
People often looked at the victim as the problem.
So when Koeffler started an intervention program to change the behavior and attitudes of abusers in 1982, she ventured into new territory. Her pioneering effort began only three weeks after the YWCA Rock County opened a shelter for battered women in Janesville.
On Friday, Koeffler finished her last day as director of the county's Domestic Violence Intervention/Deferred Prosecution programs.
In 32 years, she estimates she and counselors Dave Riyeff and Cliff Stavn have met with more than 8,600 people to end the use of violence by abusers.
“It was an opportunity to help people who wanted to change,” Koeffler said. “It was important to give them new information and choices so they can live in a way that is respectful of their partners and themselves.”
The intervention program sees arrest by police and appearing before a judge as part of the process to hold abusers accountable.
“People need to accept responsibility,” Koeffler said.
If abusers admitted their violence and committed to change, Koeffler worked with them in either short- or long-term programs.
Leaving her job is not easy.
“I want people to know I am retiring, but I still care about them," she said.
Koeffler sat on the three-member committee that chose her successor. Gina Ciaramita has been a juvenile justice specialist for 19 years with Rock County's Juvenile Justice Division.
“I'm excited to continue the great work that Kris did and to expand the program,” Ciaramita said.
Earlier this week, people who worked with Koeffler during more than three decades praised her unwavering commitment to help abusers and victims.
In Rock County, citizens know Koeffler for her effort to change the behaviors of people who use violence, said Patti Seger, executive director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin.
“But she saw herself as a victim advocate as well,” Seger said. “Kris was an early supporter of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence so it could build and sustain victim services across the state.”
Koeffler has served on just about every committee of the organization, which was renamed End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin last year.
Her trademark was compassion.
“Her whole focus has been on helping offenders understand the trauma they may have experienced in life,” Seger said. “We know many domestic violence offenders grew up in violence themselves. She treated them with humanity and dignity, which is how we want them to treat their victims.”
In addition to working with abusers, Koeffler has served on the board of directors for battered women's shelters. She has trained volunteers for shelter staff in both Beloit and Janesville. She has taught judges, prosecutors and law enforcement around the state on issues of domestic violence.
Lisa Furseth worked on domestic violence issues with Koeffler, when Furseth was director of advocacy services at the YWCA Rock County.
“Kris really has been the matriarch of domestic violence work in Rock County,” Furseth said. “When she started more than 30 years ago, there were not a lot of people working with batterers to change their behavior patterns. The lifelong impact of her work is enormous.”
Furseth, who is executive director of Community Action, respects the way Koeffler worked tirelessly and quietly behind the scenes one person at a time.
“Her successor cannot fill her shoes,” Furseth said. “She needs to buy a new pair.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.