Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5)
Transportation Committee Chair and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she was disappointed following a briefing with members of the Transportation and Capital Improvements department. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

There were 25 domestic violence deaths in Bexar County in 2018 – the highest rate in the state – and the numbers have nearly tripled since 2015, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence.

At a luncheon benefiting the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter at the Grand Hyatt downtown on Friday, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said a proposal submitted to City Council aims to double the funding the City budgets toward programs and initiatives combating domestic violence.

“I would hope that [doubling funding] would be seen as a simple request” by members of City Council and City Manager Erik Walsh, Gonzales said. “We currently have $21 million that goes toward [agencies and programs working with victims], but we need additional funding, and we need to develop a focused approach that will better address the issue.”

Gonzales and Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) crafted the proposal presented Thursday to City Council asking for domestic violence to be prioritized in the upcoming budget process in June. Council members Rebecca Viagran (D3), Rey Saldaña (D4), and Ana Sandoval (D7) also signed the consideration request, which requires five signatures.

For Gonzales, the issue is important because her district, mostly just south and west of downtown, is home to the highest rates of domestic violence and child abuse in the city.

“Domestic violence impacts the whole city, not just those who experience it. It impacts the economy, people’s ability to get jobs, their ability to function well, and it impacts chances of them being successful,” Gonzales said.

Pelaez, an attorney, served as general counsel for the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter for two decades and represented victims receiving assistance through Family Violence Prevention Services, which oversees the shelter.

“One in three women in San Antonio have a domestic violence story to tell. It’s unacceptable. It’s not the city we deserve,” Pelaez said. “We have a comprehensive plan to address public art, for tourism. … But we do not have a comprehensive plan to make sure that women and children don’t die on our watch. Shame on us.”

Pelaez also pointed out that San Antonio has an LGBTQIA population that suffers intimate partner violence at “much higher rate than other populations.”

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said he hopes the comprehensive approach at addressing domestic violence includes a focus on eliminating opportunities for it to occur, whether that be through educational programs, or more services and shelters for victims.

“When the police have to get involved, it’s too late, because that means an escalated and continued pattern of violence has gone on for some time” and already impacted the family and their community, McManus said. The chief noted that he hopes a coalition will form and work to “find and address the gap where domestic violence continues to flourish despite current best efforts.”

City Manager Erik Walsh, a featured speaker at Friday’s Honoring Mothers Luncheon, referred to the 1-in-3 statistic Palaez cited and asked the audience to think of the three closest women in their lives.

City Manager Erik Walsh speaks to a crowd about combating the growing levels of domestic and intimate partner violence.
City Manager Erik Walsh speaks to a crowd about combating the growing levels of domestic and intimate partner violence. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“This is a sobering statistic,” Walsh said. “We need to help people deal with violence in their lives, homes, and families. The way we respond to victims [of domestic violence] is critical to restoring their dignity.”

Walsh noted that this year it became a requirement that every San Antonio police officer go through specialized domestic violence training. Its aim is to create an understanding of how “toxic stress” over time – in adults and children – can change the wiring of the brain in ways that have a lifelong impact on health, relationships, and decision-making.

“There are so many things we as a City can do to better people’s lives and lessen the impact domestic violence has on victims. It’s a community issue and one that impacts San Antonio [financially], in addition to how it impacts negatively people’s personal lives.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.