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District 5 City Councilwoman Patti Radle addresses the issue of domestic violence at recent meeting at Our Lady of the Lake University. There were more than 9,700 reports of domestic violence assaults in San Antonio last year. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Help is there for family violence victims

Margie urged everyone in City Council chambers to take a breath and look around. "In that moment you looked around there is a woman who is being battered," she said.

Margie, who was speaking to attendees at the city's No Shame Campaign in connection with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, was married at age 15, and she spent the next 30 years under a reign of terror.

"My name changed to 'Bitch,'" she recalled.

Her husband isolated her. He made her work and confiscated her paycheck. She could get no help from her family, since her father was abusing her mother - a situation she had seen countless times while growing up. After years of her husband raping, beating, and nearly killing her, Margie sought help. "When I hear about battered women," she said, "my wounds open and I cry."

Other women stood up and told stories of beatings, torture, and the torment that they and their children suffered at the hands of an abuser. They explained the shame they felt, the struggle to overcome it, and their decision to eventually seek help.

Domestic violence occurs in every part of the city and the county, explained Michael McMains, director of the San Antonio Police Department's Victims Advocacy Section. According to the SAPD, there were more than 9,700 reports of domestic violence in San Antonio last year; about 23 percent - or 2,285 - resulted in arrests.

"There is an attitude that it doesn't happen here and there's nothing we can do about it," McMains said. "That is a lie."

Down the street from Council Chambers, in Bexar County Court No. 7, Judge Monica Guerrero lines abusers six people deep in front of her bench. She hands down sentences: 18 months in jail, a $750 fine, $1,200 in court costs, ordering those who plead guilty to assault charges to attend family violence counseling or other therapy. If they violate their probation, then they go to jail.

"Do not call her, do not write her, do not send her e-mail, and don't accidentally run into her," she told one batterer. "If you see her (his wife) at the store, you need to leave."

As the keynote speaker at last week's gathering of victims' advocates and the women they have aided, Guerrero urged the audience to spread the word about the pervasiveness of domestic violence - and to tell their neighbors to speak up when they see it happening.

Guerrero said that when TV crews arrive at the scene of a fatal domestic violence incident, reporters always interview the neighbors. "And they say, 'We knew someone was getting beat up in that house. I didn't know he was going to kill her.'"

"There is no shame in coming out and saying I need help," Guerrero said.

In 1996, SAPD implemented a program with the goal of helping domestic violence victims. It was an about-face from decades of law enforcement's "that's family business, not our business" attitude."

The department created Crisis Response Teams officers to monitor reports of family violence and to take steps to intervene. Each team is comprised of one civilian social worker and a pair of police officers, who work with both the abuser and the abused. There are nine teams in San Antonio working at six substations.

That is the daily routine - although it is far from routine - of counselor Jennifer Villarreal and her partners, Charles Ricketts and David Bierman, the team assigned to SAPD's North Side Substation.

The North Side CRT sees about 180 family violence cases per month. "My job is to contact and interview suspects or predators, and attempt to stop the violence in these situations," Ricketts explained.

The concept of the Crisis Response Teams is a combination of social services and law enforcement. When police suspect family violence, they refer the case to Villarreal, Ricketts, and Bierman. "In an assault, we try to contact the complainant. We explain how the cycle of violence works, and provide counseling for children," Ricketts said. "For clients in crisis, we're here to help them get through this thing one step at a time. They don't have to go through red tape."

Villarreal said the CRT works to educate the victim and abuser about the cycle of domestic violence: from the increasing anger in the abuser, the explosion of striking out, to the remorse and apologies, which the victim often accepts, and stays in the relationship. "We get complainants who are not ready to leave," Villarreal said. "It takes an average of six to seven times before the abused leaves the abuser. It is important that if the victim is not ready to leave, they would have the education of the cycle of violence and prepare a safety plan inside the home."

District 7 City Councilman Julian Castro has recognized the importance of these teams and has taken the lead in pushing for additional CRTs at the various police substations and downtown.

In a memorandum Castro sent to city officials, he urged funding for more CRTs in the community. "The CRTs are overworked and understaffed in relation to the enormity of their task."

Castro cited figures that showed the annual cost of one Caseworker II position is about $38,000; the annual cost of a patrol officer to the team is $69,000. And adding one CRT per police substation will cost about $646,860.

The financial problem boils down to the city's quandary with the budget shortfall. In addition, the police department wasn't awarded a $1.6 million federal grant to cover some of these expenses; instead, a faith-based agency in Houston received the money.

In the meantime, Castro said, "we had to pass the budget, so we created a contingency fund of $450,000, which is one-time money. Our hope is to get the grant and roll the money back into the general fund."

Villarreal said her CRT team follows up on family violence cases weekly. "We call to make sure they know we're there for them. We've had a lot of success stories, not only of helping victims, but we help the accused to get on with their lives." •

YearReported DV AssaultsArrests DV AssaultsReported V.P.O.Arrests V.P.O.
199747231427 893 893
199842601682 757 757

Statistics comparing "Reported Domestic Violence" between the years 1997 and 2000 can be misleading, due to changes in the law on what crimes must be reported as offenses. A new law went into effect in Texas during 1999, broadening the scope of crime reportable as "family violence", resulting in a significant increase in such reports during 1999 and in again in 2000. Additionally, public education during the past several years and increased police attention to this issue has led to more family violence offenses being reported to the police.

Source: San Antonio Police Department

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