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San Antonio Symposium Draws Attention To Domestic Violence As Abuse Increases During COVID-19 Crisis

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Members of the San Antonio City Council, Melissa Cabello-Havrda, Jada Andrews-Sullivan, Rebecca Viagran and Adriana Rocha Garcia, gather at a press conference announcing the symposium earlier this week.

As San Antonio continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the battle against domestic violence is also ongoing.

Violent incidents involving romantic partners rose during the pandemic as stress and stay-at-home orders affected the livelihoods of all San Antonio residents. The city approved a campaign last year to address and combat the root of domestic violence called “Love Is,” which saw parts of its five-year plan go into effect this year.

In San Antonio, there were 21 family violence-related murders throughout all of 2019. So far in 2020, there have been 29 murders with still two months left in the year.

Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said globally, lockdowns have been associated with steep rises in domestic violence.

“The impacts of COVID-19 in our community mandated social isolation,” Bridger said. “The resulting impacts on jobs, lack of mobility and housing instability are all risk factors for increasing domestic violence.”

This Thursday and Friday, the City and Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence will hold an inaugural Domestic Violence symposium virtually. There will be 18 sessions along three major topics including criminal law, civil law and community.

You can view a full agenda of the symposium here.

Data from the San Antonio Police Department shows that SAPD officers responded to 79,748 family violence-related calls in 2020 alone, and the department’s crisis response teams have made 2,200 home visits.

“Domestic violence isn’t abstract. It’s here. It’s in our homes and our families right now,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “It’s someone who says that they love you, but they’re also hurting you. Nothing is more personal, and for many in our community, nothing is more dangerous.”

As of Oct. 1, the city now has a division in the Metropolitan Health District dedicated to combating and preventing domestic violence.

“We’re attempting to unify and expand our violence prevention efforts across the organization to include trauma-informed care initiatives and the transfer of 20 San Antonio Police Department domestic violence case workers into this new division,” said City Manager Erik Walsh. “We’ve also expanded the capacity at SAPD to provide 24-hour specialized response through a federal grant we received.”

Included in this year’s budget is $6 million. Part of that — about $1.3 million — is grant money from the Department of Justice to hire 25 police detectives dedicated to investigating domestic violence. The city has dedicated similar resources into next year’s fiscal budget as well.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules