October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Veronica Lopez of the Fort Stockton Safe House has been tasked with the organization of the Domestic Violence Candlelight Vigil to be held tonight, Oct. 5, at the tracks of FS Chamber of Commerce from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Working closely with Lopez was Karen Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Crisis Center of West Texas in Odessa. Hildebrand touched on the importance of the vigil, as well as the awareness they are attempting to spread as a result of it.
“We know that in 2015, 158 women were murdered as a result of domestic violence. One in three women are abused or stalked in their lifetime, and one in four teens see dating violence in theirs,” said Hildebrand. “With these numbers, everyone has to know someone who is going through this. But with domestic violence being so prevalent, it is one of the most underreported crimes.”
Hildebrand stated awareness was key in their mission.
“We want to show these people that there are ways to get help,” Hildebrand said. “We need to make people understand it so that they can advocate for these people and help them get whatever it is they need, whether it is shelter or a shoulder to cry on.”
County Attorney Frank Lacy reflect these sentiments, saying he had made changes in his office to make sure cases of domestic violence were brought to the front of the pile.
“We used to take cases in the order they came in, but now, whenever assaults come in, we address them,” Lacy said. “Family violence cases are much more emotional than other cases like theft. The great majority of these cases are misdemeanors, but domestic violence cases are ones that happen pretty much every week, if not more often.”
Also in Lacy’s office is Wendy Porter, a victims coordinator for Pecos County. Porter has also been involved in advocating for domestic violence victims.
“The reason our office feels awareness is so important is because it is silent a lot of the time; unless you work in the field of law enforcement, you don’t hear about it,” said Porter. “One of the reasons I took this job was because I understand a lot of our victims needing us to stand up for them.”
Both Hildebrand and Porter stressed that advocacy was an important part of their jobs, and that community members should look for warning signs in order to help victims to the best of their ability. Not only this, but they tell citizens to remember victims can be men, as well.
“When people hear about domestic violence, they think of a man beating a woman,” said Porter. “It is also flipped at times. We do have victims that are males, as well as children and juveniles. Don’t forget that domestic violence can impact anyone. The more aware the community is, the more likely it is that the victims will get help.”
Hildebrand stressed the impact of violence on child victims, as well.
“One of the things people need to understand is the children are most impacted,” Hildebrand said.
“When you witness violence in your home, you are much more likely to become an abuser or accept abuse in your relationships. Our challenge is to help everyone realize the kind of impact it has on their children and that it is necessary to move children away from the violence to break the cycle.”
The red Victim Awareness silhouettes have once again been placed around Fort Stockton to remind its citizens of this mostly silent crime. Many citizens and offices helped to orchestrate the placement of these important symbols, including Lopez and Lacy’s office, with the 112th District Attorney’s Office and County Maintenance also contributing.
Lopez stated that the Domestic Violence Candlelight Vigil plans on having speakers from both the District Attorneys, Chief of Police Sal Rangel, Ruben Salinas of the Justice of the Peace office, and County Attorney Frank Lacy. Reverend Jim Miles will say the opening prayer, and candles will be lit during the vigil. A moment of silence will be observed before the closing of the ceremony. All attendees are asked to remember to wear purple in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.