Like walking the stations of the cross, the group moves around Main Street Plaza stopping for a few minutes before selected landmarks to discuss how the various aspects of society — the churches, governments, businesses — can help eradicate violence against women. Monday’s event sponsored by the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative is billed as a “men’s march” and is being held in recognition of October’s status as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. San Antonio Police Chief Bill McManus talks about efforts his department is taking to better respond to the city’s needs, the family of a deceased victim talks about their suffering, but it is P.E.A.C.E. Initiative’s co-founder and executive director Patricia Castillo who is everywhere seemingly at once wrangling her bullhorn and keeping the procession on track. The Current finally caught up with her mid-day Tuesday for a brief telephone interview.
Sometimes it feels like our dominant culture in Texas – the attitude is like “mind your business.” How do you break these generational attitudes and behaviors that keep this abuse and violence hidden away?
You know what, Greg? My approach I’ve kind of evolved little by little through the years of doing this work is to connect into people’s everyday life. When you’re able to make those connections for them and help them see how damaging it is, how costly it is, how much of an impact – like the ripple effect on our community, on our people.
Give me an example of that ripple effect.
Well an example: like last night I was talking to a group of about 60 parents and all of their kids are in Headstart in Boerne. I was telling them that maybe they have a strong, loving, wonderful family and family life, but their child goes to school where in the classroom five of the children come from families where there’s family violence. Those children come to school filled with anxiety, filled with fear, filled with rage and they don’t know where it comes from. They bully, they disrupt, they hit, they do all kinds of things to the other kids in their classroom and then they usurp the teacher’s attention and focus. So your kid is not getting everything that they could out of that classroom, out of that teacher, they’re being bullied and intimidated and probably assaulted by these kids that come to class because that’s what’s they’re living at their house. And children don’t know how to differentiate like, “Oh this is how we act at home but not at school.” So while your life may be lovely, you’re going to be affected by this stuff.
Do you feel like San Antonio understands family violence?
I feel like we understand it a lot better than we did when I first got started doing this work with the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative in 1990. We’re doing a lot better. I mean, yesterday when the `SAPD Chief Bill McManus` was able to get up on the podium and say, “We’ve increased our budget, we’ve increased our detectives, we’ve got more case workers.” Before, with every other police chief, I had to go and meet with them and tell them, “You need to get more funding for detectives, you need to talk about increasing the people power responding to the community.” And I had to work with them to get them to be willing to speak up about that. I had to go and meet with city council members to get the city council members to allocate the funding for that and do like a double whammy coming from both the Chief side and then coming from the city side. Well with McMannis, I didn’t have to meet with him not one time about budget and funding. He knew he had to do that. Now what I did do with him was — the coalition at the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative designed the questions that were going to be about family violence that were going to be used in the interview process when we were deciding which chief to get. So we had six questions that we were asking every candidate about family violence. And Sheryl Sculley opened that door with us, to have us do that. As soon as he got hired, within a month, he was meeting with our whole coalition. That’s how we were able to let him know this community takes family violence very seriously and we think you need to also.
Speaking of SAPD, I just spoke with them briefly yesterday and I got some statistics from their office related to family violence. I noticed that on your website you use family violence and domestic disturbances. To your mind, what is the difference between a case of family violence and a domestic disturbance?
Well to me, a domestic disturbance is people screaming and yelling at each other over a piece of property or something, the kids fighting, which happens in every family. You’ll have kids that are separated by one or two years and they’re beating each other up in their bedroom and destroying property. You know, I can see how that can be called a domestic disturbance. But for very long, that whole category of domestic disturbance has been a way to dismiss family violence. With this new administration, I feel like we are able to better determine what is the difference between a domestic disturbance and a family violence call that you’re responding to. That’s been because of the kinds of expectations that McMannis has laid out for the department. Things like telling people when batterers flee the house after the police have been called, you will go after them, you will search for them, and you will find them. Whether it’s on your shift or you have to pass it on to the shift after you, because they will be arrested. I mean, that kind of stuff makes a big difference in the kind of message that our city sends to the community about how we deal with this issue. I’m not saying that they find all of them. I know they don’t. But the idea that just an officer coming to your house and saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever, whatever. Here’s your case number; call us back if he shows up again.”
Now the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative began out of the church in 1990?
It began actually out of the Benedictine sisters. Even though they’re Roman Catholic just like the Catholic Church, they’re not part of the larger church idea or concept. They’re a group of religious women who originally used to own St. Benedict’s Hospital and when the health care industry became very competitive they knew their little hospital and their little nursing home wasn’t going to survive, so they sold the property for $10 million dollars. With that money they started the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative.
Since ’03, you’ve been a non-profit though, right?
Right. In ’03 they decided to close down the Benedictine Resource Center and just focus all of their resources and money on their spiritual work and retreat center out in Boerne.
I’ve been in contact with so many different organizations that work in the field of domestic violence, and yet there’s so many groups working on this issue and it just seems like the violence continues.
Well, I think that what we’re seeing is the cases in aggravated family violence are up by 36 percent.
I got just straight up domestic violence and it was a climb. In ’05, around 10,400 to last year 12,400.
Part of that, Greg, is also people speaking up more. We’ve opened that door to give people permission to bring it up, to discuss the topic openly, and we needed to do that. We needed for people to feel okay to bring it up because when we open that door, we’re opening the door for help.
Now I know the economy has had a huge impact on women and children here. I’m wondering how do you see it’s impacted San Antonio families and how has it impacted the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative?
Well, the economy is a factor that influences what happens in our families. But with family violence, what we find is that the violence and the behavior was already there. So what we might see in terms of family violence going on when you pile on the added issue of shortness of money and shortness of resources, people hanging around and not looking for jobs consistently, and the kids demanding all of their wants and needs – that’s an added layer of an already volatile situation that makes these cases escalate and explode. Just solely on the economy, I don’t think that’s a cause of domestic violence. I think it just exacerbates something that’s already bad.
How has it been for you and for the center?
Well at the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative money is tight. This year, for the first time ever we lost our state funding. That’s 30 percent of my budget, so we are being affected by the economy. Money is much tighter, and the competition for money is much greater. We are facing somewhat of a crisis right now in the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative and we’re going to be calling on our community to help us out with that. The other thing, too, is that I do think that in terms of us being able to collaborate more effectively, there’s always that need. We do need to be talking more to each other. We do need to be having conversations in our coalitions. One of the things I think differentiates the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative is that we’re like the worker bees. At our level, where we operate our coalition, and our coalition members, we’re at the grassroots level. This type of a problem that you’re talking about that keeps happening — we need the policy makers to be convened. I was talking to Judge Monica Gonzales who is the newly appointed family violence court judge in County Court 13. She was saying the same thing, and I’m like “You’re a judge! You’re handling these cases. Órale! Convene it!” When you speak, people are going to move because you’re in a position of authority. You’re in a position of power. You can call on your colleagues at the judge level and the state reps to be looking at this issue and terms of what else needs to be done. And I honestly think that San Antonio would benefit. Chief McMannis was asking me not too long ago, “What else do we need to do Patricia? I’m getting rid of the cops that are doing this stuff. I’m talking to all of the cadet classes. I’m keeping tabs on everything that’s going on with the officers at the veteran level. We’re arresting. We’re doing all of these things. What else do we need to do Patricia?” I told him it wouldn’t harm us if we had something like the Battered Women’s Justice Project that would help us. Come into San Antonio and as objective people just look at all of our agencies and our programming and see where our gaps in service are and connect us better and just help us do like an audit. Let’s pick up the mirror and let’s look at ourselves and let’s see how we’re doing in terms of somebody who’s accustomed to looking at a community that way — with that comprehensive view of what it is we still need. In every community, there’s stupid petty infighting. It’s like, “Get over it.” There’s plenty of work for all of our 10 agencies and about 35 others.
Unfortunately when you have these situations where you have these limited monies, it forces similarly minded organizations to fight each other for that money.
Exactly. That’s very tragic. I think it’s a big roadblock that we put up for ourselves. Yet the demand and the need is out there, screaming for our help and for our assistance.
For victims that are out there that don’t know they’re victims, what do they need to hear in order for them to recognize the severity of their situation?
I was just at a radio station, talking to one of the DJs over there and they brought up this whole notion of the devil is in the details, because as human beings we all want to be relating to somebody. We all want to be connected to somebody. We all want to be loved. We all want to be having and feeling and experiencing what it is to be in a good relationship. Because of that need and that desire, we tend to overlook the details. Like, “I really like that outfit, but maybe that dress is a little bit too short.” Or, “You know, I really appreciate that you made all of this food, but maybe you shouldn’t be eating this because it’s going to put on the pounds.” And, “I really love that you have so many friends, but I really want this time to be just about us.” So you see the control of your food intake beginning. You see and hear the control of who your friends are and who you can hang out with, and you see and hear things about what you’re supposed to look like.
That’s how the abuser starts?
That’s how the abuse begins. The subtleness of those things are easily overlooked, Greg. We all know – and I say this in my classes — that if we went out on the first date and they slammed us upside the head with a two by four we wouldn’t do the second date. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s very unsuspecting and we don’t realize what’s going on until – boom – it does hit us. But by that time, we’re already in love, we’re already pregnant, we already have the first kid, you know? We tend to get trapped in this process of minimizing and denying. Victims tend to take on the responsibility. We assume the responsibility of someone who clearly made a choice to be violent, to be abusive, to use violence. Our guts tell us, we have a survival instinct that tells us, “Wait a minute, should I be listening to this?” Our guts tell us this stuff, but we’ll blow it off. We’ll minimize it. We’ll say, “Oh, I’m overreacting.” Trust yourself. Listen to your gut instinct. Listen to that messaging that’s coming from our own bodies that we tend to ignore and deny because it’s very powerful and it’s usually very much on the money.
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