SAN ANTONIO – On the heels of two child abuse deaths last week, and during the month of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, community leaders are offering a much-needed update.
A sprawling group of leaders collected on the steps of City Hall on Monday morning, offering transparency about what their one-of-a-kind domestic violence commission is doing to prevent these tragedies.
“Through the last several years, Bexar County has remained one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
That blatant, uncomfortable fact is why Bexar County’s Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence (CCDV) was established in 2019, to bridge gaps between the sectors addressing domestic violence.
The six committees are: healthcare, prosecution, judiciary, law enforcement, education, and nonprofit.
The commission on Monday released its Year 2 Report, which listed goals, accomplishments, and challenges from each committee.
“One of the most significant updates is the work we’ve been doing with the Judiciary Committee in putting together a uniform process to ensure that defendants and respondents that are prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition, are being held accountable,” said CCDV co-chair Judge Monique Diaz of the Texas 150th District Court.
Diaz said they secured funding for a civil court compliance officer to aid with firearm transfer compliance and finalize the firearm transfer process and forms.
“Another major development has been the collaboration of the law enforcement and the healthcare committee to put a hotline in place in conjunction with STRAC that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is currently piloting,” Diaz said.
Anytime BCSO has a domestic violence case, deputies or investigators are now able to pick up the phone, conduct an immediate lethality assessment with the help of STRAC, identify if the victim is high risk, and if so, immediately connect them with services.
If the screening questions determine the victim to be at risk of death from domestic violence, but they do not want to go to the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter, there is funding to put them up in hotels until they find somewhere safe to stay.
The commission reports this has led to an increase of victims willing to leave their home to seek safe shelter away from an abuser.
Other accomplishments listed in the report include different domestic violence trainings for judges, medical students, and pro bono attorneys.
The report listed goals for next year, including: education about teen dating violence in schools; more awareness and resources for pregnant and lactating women; and outreach services for the LGBTQ+ community, those experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, and the immigrant community.
Though progress is being made, the violence continues, creating new challenges daily.
“We need to collectively look for the signs of domestic violence and family violence, we need to be comfortable in reporting it. We’ve got to encourage victims to get assistance,” Nirenberg said.
Peppered throughout the press conference were references about the tragic deaths of two children last week, allegedly due to abuse.
“Domestic violence and child abuse coexist,” said Family Violence Prevention Services CEO Marta Pelaez. “As a community we must have some uncomfortable and difficult conversations about the cultural elements that contribute to the high incidence of domestic violence in our city. The culture of family life, the culture in the workplace.”
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said he attended a vigil for those children, calling the cases heartbreaking, discouraging, and frustrating.
“Hope is not enough,” he said, explaining that the work is slow and necessary. “I have never seen any issue gather as much attention and focus as this issue here in San Antonio.”
Commission members said combatting domestic violence means making it a budgetary priority.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said Monday how he planned to continue pulling in federal dollars to support the commission’s local efforts.
The City of San Antonio and Bexar County have also set aside millions of dollars in their budgets to deal with domestic violence.
When asked if he could confirm this would continue to be a financial priority for the city, Nirenberg said, “Without a doubt.”
The city has a five-year plan laid out for the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence, but the commission plans to continue long into the future, securing funds and prioritizing this issue until the cases and deaths drop drastically.