During 13 years as a dispatcher, Diana Cornell calmed 911 callers crying for police protection from the flailing fists thrown about during an out-of-control family fight.
Cornell, who was named April 1 as the advocate for domestic-violence victims in northern Utah County, now feels ready to be more than a supportive voice on the telephone line.Casting a glance out of a window from her small office at Lehi City Hall, Cornell speaks intently about a need for a shoulder to lean on, a guide to social-service groups and an educator who can teach men and women about the vicious cycle of abuse.
"I feel my background helps me to deal with domestic violence victims. It's a tough position for dispatchers to be in," she said. "I've dealt with victims in the past on the phone - now I can do something about it."
Cornell's post, the third of its kind in Utah County, was funded in February with a $30,000 grant through the Violence Against Women Act.
Peggy Adams, chairwoman of the North Utah County Victim Assistance Advisory Board, said the grant was pursued because the 13-member panel saw a growing need for a liaison between victims and law enfoement agencies.
Adams said Cornell is charged with interviewing and advising victims of domestic violence in such towns as Lehi, American Fork, Highland and Alpine. Some 25 cases have already crossed her desk, including an explosive situation last Thursday when a man allegedly attacked his estranged wife and threatened to ignite a propane tank during a four-hour standoff with police.
Cornell, a former court clerk and Brigham Young University sociology student, also will inform victims of court dates, develop and conduct training for police officers and the community, conduct research, attend various meetings and testify in court on behalf of victims.
"Statistically, the ratio for the communities is the same and reaches the same severity," said Adams, comparing the rural suburbs to the sprawling metropolitan Provo-Orem area.
Lehi Police Chief Karl Zimmerman said he's seen an alarming increase of domestic violence calls in the still-quiet town founded by Mormon settlers in the 1850s. Population figures have nearly doubled since Micron announced Lehi as the site of a new multimillion-dollar plant.
"I'm not surprised," Zimmerman said about the some 800 domestic abuse cases reported each year in the area. "I also think that some cases are just not being reported."
Cornell says education is the key to helping victims get out of abusive relationships. A weekly program offered by the board teaches men and women new ways of looking at life and how to spot past patterns of behavior.
"I just love this quote: `We cannot liberate. We can only educate.' I want to put it up here on the wall," Cornell said. "Those I have worked with really want to know why they pick the people they do."
Adams and Zimmerman said Utah Attorney General Jan Graham was the "spark" behind the formation of the advisory board. A talk by Graham about her "Safe At Home" program at a meeting in Lehi two years ago prodded law enforcement leaders and advocates to action.
Cornell hopes for a new shelter in the northern part of the county. A strong corps of volunteers also needs to be recruited. A public-education campaign could help immeasurably.
It will take time, she admits, but is anxious for the challenge.
"I see good changes. I keep telling myself that it takes time, that it can't be done overnight," she said. "If I can make a difference in one life, then it will all be worth it."