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The domestic violence challenge — change things

May 27, 2019

San Antonio is a city that has a long-range plan for almost everything. Want to make tourists more impressed with the Alamo? We have a plan for that. We have a long-range plan for public art. A plan that helps abate citywide traffic congestion is under development. Our celebrated SA Tomorrow Plan is frequently cited as we plan for growth. We have a plan for how we’ll manage the way scooters move around our streets and sidewalks. We even have a bold plan for how we’re going to light public spaces downtown. There is no shortage of good plans.

However, we have no solid plan to address domestic violence. I can point to no strategy to prevent and combat increasing rates of LGBTQ intimate partner violence. There is no citywide plan that leverages partnerships with the faith community, schools, employers, nonprofits and law enforcement. Why not?

At City Hall, you’ll frequently hear leaders say they reject “business as usual” and want to be innovative and bold to find solutions to the problems that face an ever-increasing population. To me, the irony is too big to ignore because business as usual is exactly how we’ve addressed domestic violence. That is, until now.

Recently, at an annual luncheon benefiting the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and I announced that the city will finally do what generations before us have failed to do: We will produce an authentic comprehensive domestic violence plan.

This plan will set out strategies and goals for public education about domestic violence and LGBTQ intimate partner violence. It will map out our community and stakeholder organizations’ response to domestic violence. The plan will also focus on prevention. Why? Because business as usual is killing women and children.

Did you know that 1 in 3 local women have a domestic violence story to tell? Last year, 28 of those women were murdered by an intimate partner or a member of their household. Did you know that one-third of the people who end up at the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter are children? Did you know there is high likelihood that those little boys or girls will become victims or will abuse future victims?

Why us? Councilwoman Gonzales has been an advocate of domestic violence solutions for many years. Recently, she created a “Promotoras” program — promotoras are trained neighborhood opinion leaders with information and resources they can share with domestic violence victims. I’ve served at the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter (the author’s mother is Marta Peláez, CEO of Family Violence Prevention Services) for two decades and have fought to increase the investment the city government makes in our domestic violence programs. If not us, then who?

Why now? As I write this, my council colleagues and I are engaged in a yearly exercise called a midyear budget adjustment. My colleagues and I are also starting to put together our priorities for the city’s 2020 budget. To get this done right, we’ll have to begin a public dialogue with all stakeholders about the resources needed to tackle this enormous initiative. We’re doing this now because it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.

We can’t ask the orphaned children of the 28 women murdered last year what they would like for us to do about domestic violence. But I think it’s safe to assume that if asked, they’d beg us to do something — anything.

I’ve accepted their challenge. I hope you will join Councilwoman Gonzalez and me as we kick off this long overdue conversation with you and your neighbors. We’ll be asking hard questions and taking a painful look at our vulnerabilities. It’s going to require all of us to be uncomfortable and to be courageously truthful about what we haven’t been doing right.

Will you accept the challenge? If so, you can take a first step today. Consider visiting one of these three websites, FVPS, The Hotline or TCFV, and donate a dollar, or $10, or $100. Sign up to volunteer. Share this op-ed with your circle of friends. Ask your pastor to consider a sermon about domestic violence. You could ask your child’s teacher to spend five minutes of class time talking about domestic violence. Maybe you could tell your co-workers that the shelters would appreciate donations of diapers, canned food and clothing. At least, tell a loved one that if she ever needs your help, you’ll be there for her.

Just do something. Anything. Please.

San Antonio City Councilman Manny Peláez represents District 8.

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