In response, KSAT checks in, tracks progress of city-county Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence
Courtney Friedman, Reporter
Jennifer Galvan, Photojournalist
SAN ANTONIO – KSAT has been releasing results from the latest Bexar Facts-KSAT-Rivard Report poll, pulling input from community members about what matters most to them. When asked about the severity of specific issues plaguing our area, people ranked both child abuse and domestic violence in the top five.
Last year, KSAT reported a story about Bexar County’s first ever court-ordered Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence. After after the release of these poll results, we reached back out to several commission leaders to see what gaps they’ve found and progress they’ve made.
“Actions are preceded by attitudes. It all begins with an acknowledgment that we have a problem,” said Marta Pelaez, CEO of Family Violence Prevention Services.
Pelaez said after decades of work in the arena of domestic violence, she is encouraged by the fact that our community is admitting child abuse and domestic violence are rampant.
“We occupy a place of dishonorable distinction in the state because we have the highest level of incidents of domestic violence. Our shelter is the single largest shelter in the state,” Pelaez said.
She refers to domestic violence and child abuse as a joint issue, at the center and directly related to almost all other societal issues.
“If we could remove domestic violence as the hub of that wheel, every other issue will begin to fall apart and ultimately would be resolved,” Pelaez said. “You have teen pregnancy, teen dating violence, substance abuse, human trafficking. You have homelessness — 80% of homelessness in the state of Texas is directly related to domestic violence. It’s the reason why homeless shelters have the majority of women and children as residents. There is also neonatal death, which is often related to injury to the mother. There’s the high number of incarcerated individuals — 90% of those incarcerated for other reasons have lived with domestic violence in their lives.”
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The outstanding impact of domestic violence and child abuse in Bexar County led to the formation of the region’s first ever county-city Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence about a year ago.
“We have leaders of every organization that is addressing the issue of domestic violence sitting at a table, having this conversation together, not pointing fingers but talking about what we can all do collectively to help better reduce and prevent domestic violence,” said one of the commission’s leaders, 150th District Court Judge Monique Diaz.
Diaz said there are now eight separate committees setting goals and meeting monthly:
She said there is also a Policy Work Group within all of the committees that assists with pursuing identified legislative changes.
When the committee formed, they did an immediate rapid assessment, identifying gaps. Once broken into committees, the members have worked together to sets strategies and goals with specific timelines.
Diaz listed a few issues they’d already identified and are currently working to resolve.
“One is the issue of surrendering firearms that are in the possession of individuals who are court ordered to not possess them, subject to protective orders or mental health orders,” she said.
She also mentioned the commission has already obtained funding for a new Domestic Violence High Risk Team that will be housed at the Bexar County Family Justice Center.
“It’s proven to be one of the most effective ways to prevent and reduce domestic violence in other communities, so we applied for a grant. The goal is to flag cases that are high risk for lethality and tracking those cases very carefully to provide wrap-around services to victims and to try to save those lives,” Diaz said.
She also mentioned work being done in other parts of the commission to improve the referral process for survivors, outreach and rehabilitation for perpetrators, and education for parents about healthy relationships and parenting.
“In the nonprofit committee, we’re looking at bringing in pro bono legal services. We’re looking at providing programming in the schools for elementary levels,” Pelaez added.
The commission has also had to step back and offer new goals amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
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For example, the Metropolitan Health District is using the COVID-19, homelessness and human services hotlines to mention domestic violence resources.
“We review with every caller the opportunities to get help around domestic violence and child abuse. Not necessarily because that caller needs help, but we’re asking them to check on family and friends,” said Jenny Hixon, with Metro Health’s domestic violence team.
Hixon’s team has helped create flyers for school districts and the food bank to include when distributing food boxes.
“Domestic violence resources but also parenting tips. In times of economic stress, when things like this are going on, that makes it hard for parenting relationships to go well if they were already a little rocky,” Hixon said.
High stress while a family is stuck at home together, can be a recipe for domestic violence, keeping advocates and experts busier than ever.
Diaz wants the public to know services are still being offered, even during the pandemic. Resources are now even easier to use through technology.
“You can text 911 if you can’t make a phone call and you need help. Also, Bexar County Family Justice Center has expedited some of their efforts, and you can now apply for a protective order online,” Diaz said.
If you or someone you know is suffering domestic violence, KSAT has a list of resources available.
Family Violence Prevention Services, which runs the shelter and has wrap-around services, can be contacted at (210) 733-8810.
The Bexar County Family Justice Center also provides wrap-around services and can be reached at (210) 631-0100.
The Bexar Facts-KSAT-Rivard Report poll was conducted from April 16-20 by phone and internet. It includes responses from 668 registered Bexar County voters of different income and education levels, race, age, gender and political party affiliation. Four out of five respondents answered in English, while one out of five answered in Spanish. The poll’s margin of error is 4%.
Didn’t get called for the poll, but still want to have your voice heard? Take the poll, via Bexar Facts, here.