October marks the beginning of National Domestic Violence Awareness month and in Cameron County, officials are voicing their support for victims of violence at home, urging the public to report abuse, and highlighting how domestic violence affects the whole community.
Staff at the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office (CCDA) on Thursday hung an 8×20 foot Family Violence Awareness Banner above the entrance to the courthouse’s administration building marking the beginning of the month.
“You Are Not Alone: Report Family Violence” is written in large black letters across the banner’s top. Its center section features phone numbers victims can call for support services and to request help from law enforcement.
Cases of violence at home have risen locally since the onset of covid-19 while people are stuck at home, said DA Luis V. Saenz, who called conditions a “perfect storm” for victims.
“One-third of women, and one in nine men, will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. That’s twenty people per minute in the United States,” CCDA wrote in a statement.
The office saw 416 domestic violence cases between March and August.
Saenz said the office chose this year’s theme, “You Are Not Alone”, “to reach hundreds of victims who are suffering silently at the hands of their abusers as they stay home to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We are focusing, in particular, on bridging the gap between families in need of help and those who can provide it, such as law enforcement and community resource groups,” the DA wrote.
Those efforts will be facilitated remotely this year through online media, virtual events, and a small press conference on Oct. 23 by the Cameron County Family Violence Task Force.
Community outreach efforts include a collaboration between the DA’s office and Texas Southmost College (TSC) where faculty will discuss the psychology of domestic violence.
TSC Humanities Faculty Professors Martha J. Warburton (Social Work) and Monica Hernandez (Sociology) will discuss what domestic violence is, how to identify it, report it, and break the cycle.
A video to be released this month featuring the professors alongside Brownsville Police Department Officers Edna Mae Mata and Frank Bararra will delve into the issue. The officers will share their experience responding to calls and deescalating situations with children involved.
The fact that kids are often in the house witnessing the violence, said Saenz, is particularly important to highlight. Those who experience domestic violence are more likely to repeat the witnessed conduct later in life.
And in a pandemic, travel is limited, and so outcries aren’t being made.
Where a victim could normally go to a neighbor, relative, teacher, or friend, restrictions are in place and services are operating online. Victims’ only lifeline may be a phone. Should the abuser see that a victim has contacted law enforcement, it may anger the abuser.
“It has been very difficult for victims,” said the DA.
But it’s also dangerous for all of us, Saenz added, referencing the deaths of two McAllen police officers who were shot responding to a domestic violence call in mid-July just as the perpetrator opened the door.
Another horrific instance of domestic violence witnessed by the Valley this year was the kidnapping and murder of Melissa Banda, allegedly committed by her ex-husband, a man she had been granted an order of protection against.
Local resources and contact information for victims of domestic violence who need help:
Family Crisis Center: (956) 423-9304
Children’s Advocacy Center: (956) 544-7412
Friendship of Women: (956) 544-7412