|Today the Mayor and City Council of Austin declared October to be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On behalf of the Mayor and Council, Council Member Leslie Pool presented a proclamation to Michelle Myles, who is Manager of the City of Austin Office of Violence Prevention.|
“Public awareness is more important than ever,” said Council Member Pool. “Rates of domestic violence have doubled since the pandemic. And because guns are so easily accessible in Texas now, the severity of violence has escalated as well.”
“We have a 500% increase in chances of death or serious bodily injury when there is a firearm involved,” said Chief of Police Joseph Chacon. “There is nothing more tragic than the death of an innocent victim or child due to someone grabbing a weapon in a fit of rage in domestic violence.”
The pandemic brought the “perfect storm of forced isolation, stress, economic challenges, and increased risk for more frequent and severe abuse,” said Kerri Qunell, Vice President of Communications with the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline). “Survivors across the U.S. and Texas need crisis support, in record numbers. In fact, the number of people reaching out to The Hotline for 24/7 support has nearly doubled since last year— with now more than 80,000 incoming calls, chats and texts every month. The Hotline, along with local and regional organizations, are building capacity as quickly as possible to meet the increased need, but the demand outpaces anything we could have imagined.”
The City’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP), which is a division of Austin Public Health (APH), recently received $5000,000 in federal funding for a three-year pilot program to implement a firearm surrender protocol targeting domestic violence abusers. The program will be implemented in partnership with Travis County and the SAFE Alliance.
“We continue to see how gun violence and domestic violence are linked,” said Michelle Myles, Manager of the OVP. “Organizing our systems to legally and consistently get guns out of the hands of abusers will have a ripple effect of safety in homes, schools, and communities across the region. The Office of Violence Prevention is proud to be a leader in this work.”
“Twice as many people are reaching out to us as before the pandemic and the level of violence has been elevated,” SAFE Executive Director Julia Spann said. “This new program will make sure that survivors of every culture and color are at the table to ensure our new protocols serve everyone in our community.”
The Austin Travis County Domestic Violence Taskforce works year round to address domestic violence. Elizabeth Whited, Public Awareness Chair, said, “Domestic violence, and intimate partner violence, is an epidemic that effects every community of Travis County. The Austin Travis County Domestic Violence Taskforce is a partnership of law enforcement agencies, survivor resource groups, survivor support groups, offender treatment providers, and other government agencies addressing violence within intimate relationships. Locally, and nationally, we observed an increase in violence within intimate relationships during Covid. The Taskforce has planned numerous events to take place throughout October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, in order to shine a light where services are still needed and inspire our community to answer the call.”