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National Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Experts Emphasize That Resources Are Available During Pandemic

Concussions from domestic violence are sometimes overlooked in patient care.
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Concussions from domestic violence are sometimes overlooked in patient care.

San Antonio has some of the worst rates of deadly domestic violence in the state, with 29 people dying of domestic partner homicide last year. That makes National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October especially essential to getting information about the issue out to the public.

The month is usually marked by marches and events throughout the city, but the threat of COVID-19 moved a lot of those events online. At a panel discussion hosted by Palo Alto College Monday, activists reminded people that there were still resources available for people in need during the pandemic.

Marta Pelaez, president and CEO at Family Violence Prevention Services, said the fear generated by the deadly virus was used by abusers to keep people from seeking help, especially from the Battered Women’s Shelter.

“The shelter has a moral contract with the community and, to that effect, we have not closed the shelter ever since it opened doors in 1977 — much less at this time when we know that victims find themselves trapped in their homes, isolated in the company of their perpetrator,” she said. “And some abusers are using COVID to further threaten the victim.”

She said women who’ve made it to the shelter have been told by abusers that the shelter was closed or overrun with COVID-19 cases — neither of which was true. It was still open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Judith Menchaca-Lilly, another panelist, said she survived 17 years in an abusive relationship. She said she was physically abused and kidnapped, even when she was pregnant. Eventually, she had five children to take care of and thought leaving was impossible.

But when her daughter was 17, she told her mother she wanted to live with her grandmother instead of their abusive home. Menchaca-Lilly said that moment motivated her to leave her situation.

She said, “It's hard. It’s very hard. A lot of times women are asked these questions, ‘What took you so long?’ And it's not easy when you don't have a good plan, nowhere to go. …”

Menchaca-Lilly said she publicly shared her story because she wanted to hold up herself and her children as living proof that it was possible to leave an abusive relationship and thrive.

Marta Pelaez said nationwide almost 30 percent of people leave their partner seven times before they’re able to permanently sever ties with their abuser.

Patricia Castillo, the executive director of the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative and a longtime boots-on-the-ground advocate for domestic violence survivors in San Antonio, said domestic violence has, for decades, been incorrectly considered a family matter or perversely dismissed as a “passionate” relationship.

“All that kind of stuff makes me want to vomit,” she said.

“It's so much easier to victim blame than it is to hold the perpetrators accountable, and holding perpetrators accountable does take work, does require changing laws, does require getting full family support, does require making sure they spend time in jail, does require them committing to getting help for themselves,” Castillo explained.

More online events were planned throughout the month, including a town hall with congressmen and a two-day symposium on domestic violence.

The Battered Women’s shelter can be reached at 210-733-8810 and the P.E.A.C.E Initiative can be reached at (210) 533-2729. Both of the organizations offer free services and are non-discriminatory.

Jolene Almendarez can be reached at jolenealmendarez@gmail.com.