Domestic violence is a gentle description for terrible crimes, Odessa Police Chief Tim Burton told the crowd in front of the Ector County Court House on Wednesday morning.
“We’re talking about murder. We’re talking about aggravated assault,” he said. “We’re talking about child abuse, child sexual abuse. We’re talking about things that are horrific for any victim but especially in the context of their own families.”
Burton and local leaders gathered to mark the kickoff of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. When they finished speaking, assistant City Manager Michael Marrero read official proclamations from the city and county that dedicated October as such.
Speakers at the event included leaders of support and treatment groups, State Representative Tryon Lewis, District Attorney Bobby Bland and Justice of the Peace Woody Kupper. Purple ribbons hung from the court house to symbolize the crimes, victims and survivors. Red cutouts of women told stories of those who died from the abuse, such as 19-year-old Diana Ponce, who was “shot to death by her estranged husband” in 2005, along with her unborn child and her mother.
The goal of the month, speakers said, is to promote resources for victims of domestic violence, and to honor those people who alleviate the strain domestic violence inflicts on the community — from investigators to the counselors, volunteers and victims advocates. (See the breakout about resources for victims)
In her speech, Carole Wayland, the executive director of Safe Place of the Permian Basin, a treatment and advocacy organization, offered a bright spot: Public perception of domestic violence had improved through the years.
“It’s something that was once kept behind closed doors and people didn’t address it because it was a private matter,” Wayland said, also encouraging people to speak when they see injustice in the work place, in their neighborhoods and in their families.
But domestic violence remains a constant problem here. And reported incidences here ride above the state average, Wayland said.
By the end of August, Odessa police had reported 1,649 incidences of family violence for the year, according to most recent statistics provided by the department. That rate seems in keeping with recent years: 2,256 incidents in 2011, 1,983 in 2010.
Kupper, who magistrates those accused of crimes in Ector County Detention Center, said “You cannot believe the number of Assault Family Violence arraignments there are every week, or even daily.”
Nonetheless, domestic violence remains one of the most under-reported crimes, Burton said. And the damage it causes is widespread.
Beyond the purely criminal problem, Burton said, are problems such as the educational setbacks some young victims suffer as a result of psychological trauma. There are public health problems linked to domestic violence, including sexually transmitted infections and increased health risks. Also, there are the economic problems to wrestle with: legal costs and treatment and victims’ problems in their work lives.
Rep. Lewis recalled his early days as a district judge.
“I didn’t realize the incredible danger of domestic violence and how pervasive it was in our community,” he said. “I was just shocked.”
Lewis asked the community to suggest ways of plugging any holes in the law and ways to make it more enforceable.
“We’ll do it,” he said.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESOURCES
>> The Crisis Center in Odessa offers intervention and advocacy for children and adults, including men. Services include court accompaniments and a 24-hour shelter. People who need help can call the hotline at 432-333-2527, People who wish to donate can contact the same number.
>> Safe Place of the Permian Basin offers a 24-hour crisis line and a 24-hour emergency shelter in Midland. An office in Odessa offers non-resident help. Services include legal advocacy, counseling, support groups and an intervention program for abusers. People who need help can call the hotline at 432-570-1465. People who wish to donate can do so online at http://www.safeplacenow.com or by mail sent to P.O. Box 11331, Midland, TX 79702.
>> The District Attorney’s Office victim’s assistance workers will meet with people who believe they need to file a protective order and review their situation with them for free. If cases meet the requirements for a protective order, the attorney’s office will file it and represent victims for free as well.