On Thursday 10/21/21, Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool presented a proclamation on Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was received by Stephanie Burgess, Victim Services Supervisor at the Austin Police Department. Throughout the month of October, community partners have hosted events to educate the community about domestic violence, and have encouraged buildings to "light up purple" in recognition of the month. The proclamation brings attention to the importance of collaborative efforts to educate and empower community members to address and prevent domestic violence.
"Domestic Violence Awareness Month provides an excellent opportunity for citizens to learn more about preventing domestic violence and empowering victims," said Council Member Pool. "I urge you all to participate in this month's activities with the Austin/Travis County Family Violence Task Force, The SAFE Alliance, and other community organizations."
Representatives of several key partners - including SAFE, the Hotline, Austin Public Health's Office of Violence Prevention, Austin Police Department's Victim Services Team, and Travis County Courts, as well as fellow Austin City Council Members Alison Alter and Vanessa Fuentes - spoke on the importance and strength of the coordinated, collaborative approach to addressing domestic violence in our community.
"Last year, there were five homicides in Travis County caused by an intimate partner. That is five too many. It is also dramatically lower than other large urban cities in Texas," said Julia Spann, Co-CEO of SAFE, which serves survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence. "Our strength in Travis County is our willingness for law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, advocates and service providers to work cooperatively to address and respond to victims of family violence." "
Travis County is a leader in the state of Texas when it comes to advancing criminal justice reform while addressing domestic violence incidents through our Domestic Violence specialty court, which allows us to better determine which defendants will respond well to counseling and rehabilitation, and which defendants need to face more serious consequences, including relinquishment of their firearms to keep alleged victims and the community safe," said Honorable Judge Dimple Malhotra. "As the presiding judge of the domestic violence court, I am proud that in 2019 and 2020, Travis County had the lowest domestic violence homicide rate of any major urban county in the entire state of Texas."
Council Member Vanessa Fuentes spoke about the disproportionate burdens that women face with domestic violence in our community. "While anyone can become a victim of domestic violence, we know it's overwhelmingly women who are the victims. This is especially true for women of color and immigrant women. Thank you to our community organizations who work tirelessly to help survivors and to those who ensure resources are culturally sensitive. Everyone must feel safe to come forward to seek support."
Honorable Judge Aurora Martinez Jones spoke about the impact of domestic violence on children. "Domestic Violence is one of the primary reasons I see families in my Court with involvement from Child Protective Services. It is urgently important that our community understand how impactful Domestic Violence is on children and on the parent-child relationship," said Jones.
Other representatives spoke to community resources to both prevent domestic violence and support victims. "The National Domestic Violence Hotline is proud to be headquartered in Austin, where we provide confidential services 24/7 to survivors of domestic violence and their loved ones via phone, chat, and text all across the United States," said Crystal Justice, Chief External Affairs Officer for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "Especially during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it's important that we continue to invest in the long-term safety of survivors."
Michelle Myles, Manager of the new Office of Violence Prevention at Austin Public Health, spoke about the Office's initiatives to prevent domestic violence in Austin. "In our first year, the Office of Violence Prevention is starting at the intersection of gun violence and domestic violence. We know that in 2020, 67% of domestic violence fatalities were caused by guns, and having a firearm present increases the chances of fatalities by 500%. We are working with organizations across Austin/Travis County to develop and implement standardized firearm surrender protocols that will increase the safety of victims, perpetrators, and first responders."
"We have a community responsibility to interrupt and prevent violence, and I am proud of the work we are doing with our partners and through the Office of Violence Prevention," said Council Member Alison Alter. "The data is clear – access to guns greatly increases the likelihood that a family violence incident will result in death. We can save lives by reducing firearm access for individuals with a history of domestic violence, and we must take common sense actions like this to protect those who need help."
Stephanie Burgess, Victim Services Supervisor at the Austin Police Department, spoke to the critical role her team plays in supporting victims of domestic violence. "At Austin Police Department Victim Services, we recognize the importance of creating awareness in our community and having conversations about domestic violence. Victim Services counselors are available to assist you regardless of if you choose to make a police report," said Burgess "We can provide emotional support, help you to understand your options and guide you to resources in the community."
For more information on Domestic Violence Awareness Month and resources in Austin, visit https://www.safeaustin.org/DVAM/
For help: If you want to talk to someone, you can call or text The SAFE Alliance at 24-hr SAFEline – Call: 512.267.SAFE (7233) | Text: 737.888.7233 | If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.