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Painted rocks to help raise awareness about domestic abuse

By Kelly Terpstra,

Emily Propst isn’t an artist and you won’t see her splashing color to canvas anytime soon.

But when the month of October rolls around, purple becomes her passion.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The color purple is utilized through ribbons that are worn to honor victims of domestic violence and to spread the word about awareness to help prevent any future abuses from happening.  

Emily Propst
Emily Propst

Propst, a Crisis Intervention Service domestic abuse advocate for Floyd, Mitchell and Worth counties, has been involved in the struggle to eradicate all forms of domestic abuse and the harm and pain it causes. The main message behind Propst’s effort is that awareness — coupled with action — can create social change.

Last year she placed purple pumpkins around Charles City to raise awareness about domestic violence. This year, Propst will paint purple pumpkin rocks with educational and inspirational statements or sayings written on the back.

That’s where Propst’s 20-pound bag of rocks comes into play. She has yet to start coloring the rocks and placing them around Charles City, but that will be soon she said. Each rock is about two to three inches in length and Propst will go around town and selectively decide where to put each of her rocks.

As the rocks are found, Propst said, people can look things up on the internet and learn more about domestic violence after reading what is printed on the stones.

Propst stressed that the more people know and understand all the various aspects and traits of domestic violence, the more likely it is that victims of such abuse can stop the damage that’s already been done and move on with their lives.

“There’s safety in truth and numbers,” said Propst. “Usually when someone is brave enough to come forward, many others do as well.”

The Crisis Intervention Center serving north central Iowa is in Mason City and has been open since 1977. The mission of the center is to provide persons affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and homicide with professional, confidential 24-hour services, including safety and support.

Propst will have worked for Crisis Intervention Service for 17 years next month and she frequently works at the outreach center located in downtown Charles City in addition to the other help and assistance she gives two other counties in the area.

The CIS satellite office in Charles City opened in 1999 and for a few years was in the basement of a local church, according to Propst.

Propst said domestic violence does not discriminate and can affect all walks of life, regardless of skin color or sex. She said 1 in 4 women will be a victim of some sort of domestic partner violence in their lifetimes.

“It’s happening to your friends and family. It’s happening to people at your church. It’s happening to possibly the person standing next to you at the grocery store,” said Propst.

Domestic violence can be mental or physical abuse, or both.

Propst said victim blaming could be something as simple as overhearing a conversation at work or listening to someone you are close to, like a friend in the classroom.

“If you’re making comments that are victim blaming or disbelief, then you’re sending those people that you care about a message that you’re not going to believe them and you don’t value what’s happening to them,” she said.

Propst said domestic abuse and sexual assault are often intertwined. She also said that 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone who knows the victim.

“They’re not being sexually assaulted by the guy that jumps out of the bushes,” said Propst.

Understanding what constitutes domestic violence and knowing what is right and what is wrong is key to halting the unwanted behavior by a close friend or spouse.

“I talk to people that think that they’re not abused because they just get pushed or they just get kicked. ‘I don’t have a black eye, he just strangled me.’ It’s all of those things,” said Propst.

She said a lot of the time relationships start out good but gradually abuse starts and is derived from a need for power and control.

“Nobody goes on a first date and gets punched in the nose and says, ‘Yeah, I’ll go out with you again.’ That’s not how it happens,” said Propst. “Those behaviors and stuff, they build up over time. It’s a cycle. There’s still those good times in between.”

The credibility of the accuser can come into play in many instances after a report of abuse is made. The misconceptions surrounding a stereotypical belief that victims may be lying are sometimes hard to overcome.

“It’s one of those things where, again, it goes to the victim blaming. It’s always about what did she do. Is she believable? It’s kind of, we can’t just believe all the women who say this,” said Propst. “Then what you’re saying is and what’s been happening for years is you’re automatically believing every man that says it didn’t happen. So why is that more acceptable? That’s kind of the narrative.”

Propst said victims often have to sacrifice a great deal just to remove themselves from an unhealthy relationship.

“It is hard to give up everything you have. That’s what people have to do,” said Propst. “There’s like people on the outside, ‘well, that’s just all superficial stuff.’ But you’ve never had to completely start over with nothing when you’ve done nothing wrong.”

Propst said after reaching the Crisis Intervention Services’ website, there is a blog called Survivor Speaks, which allows anyone, whether they are a victim of harassment, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic abuse or human trafficking, etc., to tell their story.

“You can go on there and read other people’s stories to just bring home that it just isn’t actresses and isn’t just people on TV and isn’t just about discrediting somebody important. That these things do happen and they happen locally and they happen to people you know,” said Propst.

The Crisis Intervention Service’s sexual assault advocate for Floyd County is Briana Rottinghaus, who can be reached at or by dialing 641-832-8456. People can contact Propst at or by phoning 641-228-0015.