Breaking the silence is a great first step toward breaking the cycle of domestic violence in this country.

Another way of helping eradicate the actions of intimate partner abuse is reassuring victims that they are believed and the negative behavior their partner exhibits is the fault of the partner alone, said Jennifer Fernandez, executive director of the Guadalupe Valley Family Violence Shelter.

“The first thing that I tell them is that we believe them,” she said of victims who reach out to the shelter. “Often survivors don’t come forward because they’ve become isolated from family and friends that may offer them support and they’re not certain they’re going to be believed. So the first thing we say is we believe them and we’re here to support them.”

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The month offers people of all walks of life to gather together in solidarity and raise awareness about domestic violence.

The efforts of raising awareness are intended to help eliminate intimate partner abuse, Fernandez said. Teaching people what domestic violence entails and that they can get free assistance from places like the Guadalupe Valley Family Violence Shelter also go long ways in diminishing the effects of domestic violence, she said.

“The first thing we feel is important is educating the community,” Fernandez said. “Oftentimes, victims may be in these situations and really don’t know where to seek help, what to do to get out of those situations. So education is key to letting victims know there is help, there is hope and that these free services are available to them.”

The shelter partners with law enforcement, prosecutors’ offices, protective services personnel, medical providers, educational institutions and others in the community to raise awareness, she said.

The non-profit organization offers crisis hotline assistance all day, everyday, emergency shelter, counseling, safety planning and danger assessment, Fernandez said.

Workers at the shelter help with advocacy, accompaniment services and will respond to hospitals if a survivor needs help there, she said.

The number of people who need such services in the United States annually is staggering.

According to information provided on the National Network to End Domestic Violence website: More than 1 in 3 women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime; approximately 7.9 million women are raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a current or former intimate partner each year; and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have experienced rape in her or his lifetime. Not only victims need to be made aware of the issues surrounding intimate partner violence, Fernandez said.

People in the community sometimes don’t understand how prevalent domestic violence is in this country. Or they know it happens in the country and around the world, but they don’t always think about the practices occurring in their own areas, she said.

“I think that sometimes people think that but it’s definitely something that occurs in our community and every community,” Fernandez said. “Last year, 174 women were killed by their male intimate partner in our state. That number marks the highest number of women killed in the last decade.”

Guadalupe County had a woman killed in 2018 as a result of intimate partner violence in Schertz, Fernandez said.

It’s for that woman, the loved ones she’s left behind, others like them and survivors that the Guadalupe Valley Family Violence Shelter holds a pair of annual candlelight vigils in the county. Those vigils are scheduled to take place this year starting at 6 p.m. Monday on the courthouse steps in Seguin and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Pickrell Park in Schertz.

“We are hosting two candlelight vigils to honor those women and men who lost their lives to domestic violence in 2018 and to show our support for those still living in those situations,” Fernandez said.

People in attendance are expected to read the names of people who succumbed to domestic violence in 2018, she said. Also there will be a brief speaker to touch on the effects of domestic violence in the local community, Fernandez said.

The Guadalupe Valley Family Violence Shelter services people from a four-county area including folks from Guadalupe, Gonzales, Karnes and Wilson counties, she said. With a coverage area encompassing 3,300 square miles, the shelter is always in need of assistance, Fernandez said.

It can be provided in a host of ways.

“Monetary donations are always appreciated but we also welcome folks who want to donate their time. Our agency began with a dedicated group of volunteers and they’re still the backbone of our agency,” Fernandez said. “Volunteers can help us provide services such as answering the hot line calls, or accompanying victims. They can plan activities for children. They can provide transportation services or help us to organize events.

“There’s always a need. We try to pair folks with their unique talents and interests.”

Dalondo Moultrie is the assistant managing editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at dalondo.moultrie@seguingazette.com .

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