October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To commemorate the month, staffers from Safe Place, Inc., a domestic violence shelter and sexual assault crisis center in Dumas, erected cut-out, wooden figures of women on the lawns of the courthouses in Dumas, Dalhart, Channing, and Stratford, the county seats of Moore, Dallam, Hartley, and Sherman counties, the area of operations for Safe Place, Inc. One was also put up in Sunray.
Each of the figures represents someone killed in an incident of domestic violence in 2018, the latest year for which statistics were available at the beginning of the month. Stapled to the figure is the name of the victim and the story of how that person died. The stories are grim.
Leeann Torres was 24 years old and pregnant with her third child when her boyfriend, Steven Urias, strangled her on February 1, 2018. She had recently returned from the hospital after a previous assault.
Andrew Garcia shot and killed his wife, Heather Chamberlin, in her home on August 17, 2018. He then shot and killed himself. Chamberlin left behind three children, one of whom was in the house when his mother was killed.
According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, 174 women were killed by male partners, 32 men were killed by female partners, while one woman and four men were killed by same-sex partners.
The wooden figures are part of the Silent Witness Initiative. Since 1990, activists and people involved with helping domestic violence victims have been erecting the so-called "red ladies" and performing memorial ceremonies around the country and, increasingly, overseas in an effort to keep the memory of victims alive and bring awareness of the problem of domestic violence to a broader public. The initiative began in Minnesota to commemorate women victims. Though the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women killed by heterosexual partners, the initiative has expanded to include men, children, and same-sex partners who have been killed by an intimate partner. Following the lead of their colleagues at Family Support Services in Amarillo, Safe Place, Inc. personnel painted their "red ladies" purple, the color that represents the domestic violence awareness campaign.
According to K.C. Stuart, program director at Safe Place Inc., staffers have not seen the surge in domestic violence cases that some experts had feared would happen after the COVID lock down, but demand has remained strong through 2020, comparable to previous years. Since January 1, 2020, the shelter has provided refuge for 34 children and adults, and staffers have fielded 247 hotline calls from victims seeking assistance. Other victims have walked in seeking help. She adds that she has seen an increase in people needing food and other items. Safe Place, Inc. operates a small food bank. She says Safe Place, Inc. is open 24 hours a day and ready to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The hotline number is 935-2828. It is manned 24 hours a day seven days a week.
On Friday, October 9, the Texas Council on Family Violence released their latest figures and report on Texans killed in domestic violence incidents. In 2019, 150 women were killed by male partners, 31 men were killed by female partners, while one woman and three men were killed by same-sex partners, an improvement over 2018, but 2019 continues a ten-year trend of increasing numbers of Texans killed in domestic violence incidents. The effects of the incidents reached beyond the immediate victims. Twenty people who were not the intended victim were killed and six were injured in the violence. Many victims left behind children, often witnesses to the crime, who will suffer the emotional consequences for the rest of their lives.
As in previous years, the vast majority of victims died by firearm in 2019. The age of the victims ranged from 15 to 93 years old. Most died at home.
More information is available on the Texas Council on Family Violence website or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or 1-800-799-7233.