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College of Human Ecology

Nationally known domestic violence expert is new director of K-State's Marriage and Family Therapy program

Thursday, July 19, 2007

MANHATTAN - Sandra Stith, the new director of the marriage and family therapy program at Kansas State University, knows about the broken-bone type of abuse in a relationship.

She knows about violent abuse that doesn't cause one physical bruise. Such as the angry husband who killed his wife's dog, forced her to dig the grave, beheaded the animal and stuck the head in the refrigerator. "This is what will happen to you if you leave me," he told his wife.

Stith, one of the best known marriage and family therapists in the country and a pioneer in couples' treatment for domestic violence, has spent her life trying to understand domestic violence.

But she is continually surprised.

"It's very complex," she said. "There is not just one type of abuse."

According to Stith, more than 5 million incidents of partner violence, some resulting in death, occur annually among U.S. women ages 18 and older.

Stith recently returned to the School of Family Studies and Human Services in K-State's College of Human Ecology, 21 years after she received her doctorate in marriage and family therapy in the program she now leads.

"This is a great program. We have good friends in the community and at the university," she said. "We love Manhattan."

Stith's husband, Gary, was a former community development director for the city of Manhattan. He currently directs a large downtown redevelopment project for Silver Spring, Md. The Stiths are among a growing number of professional couples in commuter marriages.

Stith grew up in Oklahoma. She was a professor and director of the master's program in marriage and family therapy at Virginia Tech University in Falls Church before coming back to K-State.

The recipient of numerous awards, Stith was honored by K-State this spring as a 2007 College of Human Ecology Alumni Fellow. She has received the "Outstanding Contribution to Marriage and Family Therapy" award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the "Distinguished Contributions to Family Systems Research" award from the American Family Therapy Academy. She also has been recognized for teaching excellence at Virginia Tech.

In the last 10 years, Stith has garnered nearly $10 million in grants, including work with the Air Force's Family Advocacy Program.

At K-State, she looks forward to working with doctoral students and will continue her pioneering work in couples' treatment to prevent intimate partner violence.

Besides the emotional tolls, family violence costs the nation from $8 billion to $10 billion annually in medical and mental health expenses, police and court costs, shelters and foster care, sick leave, absenteeism, and non-productivity, she said.

The goal is prevention, she said.

"When we empower young couples or young relationships, give them ways to resolve conflict and disagreement, and help them recognize that each individual has value and shouldn't be pushed around, we're able to make a real difference," Stith said.

Solutions after the fact, she said, are often too late, especially if there are children who have witnessed or experienced the abuse.

Every one is entitled to live a healthy life without violence, she said.

"We strive to give them the skills and tools to do it."

Source: Sandra Stith, 785-532-4377, sstith@k-state.edu
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415.
News release prepared by: Jane Marshall, 785-532-1519, jpm2@k-state.edu

This article was posted on Thursday, July 19, 2007, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.