Kelly Miller 

How a pantyhose commercial inspired nearly three decades of helping victims of abuse

Kelly Miller is the new executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. The coalition is a statewide nongovernmental nonprofit working to prevent and eliminate violence in relationships, homes and communities. Miller is an attorney with over 28 years experience in prevention and response to domestic and sexual violence.

When did you first want to become a lawyer?

You're going to laugh. It was the late '70s. And I remember seeing a Hanes pantyhose commercial where this empowered young woman walked into a courtroom. And I thought here's a woman who has the ability to create change. I think it was a lot of things coming together, so I applied to law school at the University of Tennessee.

Did you always have an interest in social justice?

I think it was always there. I can remember back in my teens running an underground newspaper, and we reported on the social injustices of high school. It seems a little far-fetched now, but there were always these little markers along the way. I was always concerned about violence against women and children, so it wasn't a major shift for me to decide to go to law school.

How many victims of sexual violence do you think you've met over the years?

I've practiced law and worked in this field either in policy or advocacy work for over 28 years. During law school and immediately after, I was always involved in legal aid. In Kentucky, I worked in the prosecuting attorney's office in the domestic violence and sexual assault unit. It's definitely thousands.

So give us some statistics.

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. I think it's so difficult to look at those statistics and not really see the people behind the numbers. I think of sexual assault and I always think of the individuals whose lives have been touched by the violence.

What kind of shadow does the economy cast on domestic violence?

Economic stress does not cause domestic violence. But I think it exacerbates it in a number of ways. If you're in an abusive relationship and you're either underemployed or unemployed, it's another significant barrier from escaping an unhealthy relationship.

Tell us about your agency's connection to the Twilight series.

We were working with women who were victims of violence, and we would see them in their 20s or 30s. We found, more often than not, a string of abusive relationships started when they were young teens. We began to think about what we could do as a community to address teen dating violence. And we see that not as a criminal justice issue but as a community issue, a health issue and an education issue.

We're always looking for creative ways to engage in conversations with young people, and one of the most successful avenues has been through the Twilight series. The main character is Bella. In the books and movies, she would give up everything for a relationship. She would lie to her father. She would give up her activities and friends for a boyfriend. We think that's a good "teachable" moment. Not to be critical or judge the movie, but to ask, "Hey, what are you thinking about this?"

So for the premiere of New Moon this past June, we reached out to teens at a midnight showing of the film. The Twilight movies, as one of our teens said, are a pop-culture tsunami for youth. This particular movie gave us a good segue, because it was based on a choice presented to Bella when she graduated from high school. A choice between a vampire and a werewolf. And what we're saying is there's a third choice. For herself.

Where's the joy in your work?

I think I have a real interest in emphasizing prevention. I think that's because I worked for so many years in response and treatment. We've learned that you have to do the entire continuum.

Another aspect of joy comes from collaborating with domestic violence programs, community stakeholders, governmental and nongovernmental organizations and to work within established systems to end violence.

So you and your family are about to spend three weeks on the other side of the world. How did you choose Mongolia? Did you spin the globe one day?

Pretty much. We fly to Beijing and then take a two-day train ride to Mongolia. When we're there, we'll spend time with a number of nomadic families. We'll travel from family to family by camel, donkey or ox cart.

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