Every Voice Matters – A Call to Action
On October 14, the Caldwell County Family Violence Task Force hosted the 12th Biennial Caldwell County Family Violence Task Force Conference in Lockhart. The theme of “Every Voice Matters – A Call To Action” was explored throughout the day. Victims of domestic violence took center stage with a compelling panel titled “Break the Silence”.
Each survivor shared her personal experience starting with Victoria* who spoke of her history as a victim of psychological abuse. She shared that she thought she met the “man of my dreams” when she first started her relationship with her now ex-husband. Slowly and methodically, their relationship turned from ideal to one filled with criticism, destruction of personal belongings, accusations and “gaslighting” – a term used to describe an abuser’s efforts to make their victim feel like they’re losing their minds.
She also told us that he was an alcoholic, but he was abusive whether he was sober or drunk reminding us all that while alcohol can be a contributing factor, it’s not the cause of abuse. It is always a choice made by an individual to abuse another.
Victoria* also shared about her deep feelings of guilt and shame for “allowing” the abuse – another common experience shared by victims like Connie* who spoke of her personal history starting even before birth with her father kicking her mother down the stairs while pregnant with Connie*. Her child abuse escalated as she grew older living with an abusive father and a mentally ill mother. She spent hours dreaming about her “REAL parents, because surely, these people who didn’t seem to care about her couldn’t be real”.
She was removed from her home for a time. When she returned she became a pseudo parent responsible for her younger siblings. As a young woman, she became pregnant, then met the man she would later call her husband who quickly turned into her abuser. Her abuse began with what she thought was love at first. He was jealous and it made her feel special. Jealousy then became possessiveness filled with accusations of cheating, then threats to harm her or harm himself if she left. Physical abuse followed soon after.
The last survivor we heard from spoke of a similar experience. Susan* also thought her abuser really loved and cared for her at first, but his actions morphed into accusations and possessiveness.
Their relationship was a roller coaster. Recalling the first time he hit her she said, “he pushed me down, then punched me in the face because his friend was over and he accused me of cheating on him with his friend”. The police were called but he left so no arrest ever happened. She later became pregnant and quickly felt like she was constantly “walking on egg shells every day”, never knowing when he would get physically abusive again. Even being pregnant did not insulate Susan* from physical abuse. She described the next incidents as “I was his punching bag. I was punched everywhere: stomach, throat, between the legs, arms, thrown into walls, kicked, spit on, strangled and called every name in the book. He even raped me”.
Throughout all of this, she tried living what she called “two lives: one at home and one in public”. Police were called repeatedly although, he would leave and avoid arrest. One incident even prompted the responding officer to ask if a “tornado went off in the home”. All three survivors ended their talk by describing themselves as grateful to have received help and no longer feeling the need to hide in fear. They feel stronger and refuse to let anyone make them feel less than they’re worth.
Other voices echoed the seriousness and complexity of domestic violence including Lisa Girourard who spoke about working in victim services with the Austin Police Department who helped us to understand the victim’s perspective.
Over half of the day was devoted to Males Voices – essential partners in understanding and changing the reality of domestic violence. Area partners Aaron Setfliff (Texas Council on Family Violence, Director of Public Policy), Brandon Pendleton (HCWC Primary Prevention Coordinator), David Bryant (Community Action, Father Engagement Specialist), Curtis Clay (former Texas School Safety Center and HCWC Board Member) and Emiliano Diaz de Leon (Texas Association Against Sexual Assault) shared the important ways their life’s work helps stop interpersonal violence. Each explored their roles in not only learning about attitudes and behaviors but re-learning what masculinity means and ways we each influence one another based on societal expectations.
Also discussed was the importance of addressing male victimization and understanding that females can also engage in abusive behavior as aggressors in a relationship. This leads us to further consider the abusive behavior as being the true culprit and not continuing to make this a male vs. female issue. “Be A Part of the Solution” was the call to action at the end of the conference. Every attendee was given tips and insight from strong voices against violence and encouraged to consider how WE can be a part of the solution of ending violence in our community. Taking the time to read this article is one way to begin that journey. Share the knowledge you’ve gained with others. Without you we cannot accomplish the ultimate goal of ending abuse and violence in our community. We encourage you to continue that journey and join us in making sure that “Every Voice Matters” including yours.
The Caldwell County Family Violence Task Force was created in 1996 after the Lockhart Police Department received a grant from the US Department of Justice. This grant allowed HCWC and TRLA, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, to increase services to victims of domestic violence. These services then led to a cooperative effort to bring the community together to develop
a plan for creating a coordinated service system for survivors and victims of violence. Concerned citizens and representatives from several disciplines gathered for a one-day seminar and through this seminar created the Caldwell County Family Violence Task Force. Since then, it has been an integral part of the community and the crusade to end family violence.
This article was featured in HCWC’s Fall 2016 Edition of the Networker. To read the full newsletter, visit our Newsletters page, and join our email list to receive the quarterly publication and occasional updates in your inbox.
*Names of victims have been changed.