TW // sexual violence, domestic violence
Domestic violence, which threatens the lives of vulnerable victims and the healthy development of thousands of families, had already risen to alarming highs in 2018 and 2019.
As frontline responders during the pandemic, the Bexar County Family Justice Center (BCFJC) continued providing crucial crisis services to survivors of domestic and family violence during the pandemic, thanks to a $25,000 grant from the San Antonio Area Foundation.
That operational grant funding empowered BCFJC to purchase the technology needed to help transform its walk-in crisis center to a virtual one. By creating a virtual service system, survivors can access BCFJC services from anywhere by phone or online – including crisis intervention, safety planning, protective orders, adult counseling, child therapy, food and relocation assistance.
These comprehensive, wrap-around services assist survivors and their children in navigating “the journey from survivor to thriver.”
Despite COVID-19 and quarantine orders, more than 5,000 people received BCFJC assistance in 2020 – a 25 percent increase from the previous year. Of those, more than 2,000 were identified as high-risk victims facing death or serious injury.
With approximately 3,000 people having received services in the first six months of 2021, the increase from 2019 will likely exceed 40 percent.
Each survivor has a unique story. We are grateful to Isabel (a pseudonym used here to protect her safety), a 52-year-old courageous survivor for sharing her harrowing experience. She hopes that in doing so, others in similar situations will see that they are not alone and will reach out to BCFJC and other support organizations for help.
Throughout 2020, Isabel’s live-in boyfriend severely beat her. She lived in constant fear. She never knew when the next painful punch would knock the breath out of her or when a random household item thrown from across the room would strike her.
Her boyfriend’s jealousy and control dominated her daily life. His terrifying threats when she tried to leave made her feel like a prisoner in her own home. As a way to manipulate her and avoid taking responsibility for his violent behavior, he would harm himself, point to a difficult childhood or blame life stressors like work and money.
Even after gathering the courage to leave, Isabel ended up returning to the relationship out of fear that he would kill her if she did not. In December 2020, he raped her, savagely bit her face and punched her so hard teeth were broken. During yet another incident, he tried to suffocate her by putting his weight on her, head-butted her forehead, picked her up and threw her with so much force that the impact caused her to lose consciousness.
On Christmas week, she reached out to BCFJC for help. With its unique “under one roof” structure, a team of professionals across different disciplines got to work on providing her comprehensive, coordinated services. She received crisis intervention, one-on-one counseling with a licensed professional counselor, case management and resource coordination from a High-Risk Domestic Violence Coordinator and a civil protective order assistance through the District Attorney’s Protective Order Unit.
On Christmas Eve, the survivor’s boyfriend was served with the temporary protective order secured for her by a prosecutor with the DA’s office. This order helped bring peace and comfort to the survivor’s holiday season. With the final two-year protective order secured for her just two weeks later, 2021 brought renewed strength, confidence and promise.
She continues to thrive in her journey and she recently shared her gratitude to the BCFJC team of community partners and staff that helped her through the following note:
“It is so hard to take the chance to accuse someone who you know their next step is to kill you. You feel powerless and desperate, especially like in my case where I am completely alone. The Family Justice Center’s services helped me have that courage to apply for a protective order… Today I am safe. I have been able to carry on with my beautiful life. I am able to see my people without being terrified… I just want to express my gratitude to all of you because you help me feel safe and protected. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you do.”
There are countless courageous stories like this one shared by Isabel. It is important that survivors of intimate partner and family violence see that they are not alone during the pandemic – BCFJC and other domestic violence support organizations are here and ready to help. If you, a family member, friend, coworker or acquaintance would like to learn more about our comprehensive victim services, please visit www.bcfjc.org or call (210) 631-0100.
The goal of the Fund for Public Health, a fund managed by the Area Foundation, is to narrow the widening gaps of local health and social disparities to include incidents of domestic violence. To learn more about how you can contribute to this fund and help leverage local efforts to optimize health and quality of life for all members of our community, click here.
Crystal Chandler has served as Executive Director of the Bexar County Family Justice Center since January 2019. Previously, she handled various roles including family violence judge, prosecutor nonprofit co-founder, trainer and criminal law professor.