By Alton Porter
The Family Crisis Center of East Texas (FCC), which recently opened a branch office in Crockett, hosted a Domestic Violence Awareness Month activity on the Houston County Courthouse lawn Thursday, Oct. 5.
The event, moderated by Heather Kartye, FCC executive director, who is stationed in Lufkin, featured a brief program with agency representatives and local dignitaries speaking about the effects of domestic violence.
In addition, it included a release of 49 purple balloons recognizing the 49 victims who sought out FCC's services and received help last year and two white balloons representing unreported incidents of domestic violence. The program concluded with a pizza lunch provided by the FCC.
Veronica Pace, who is a crisis worker in FCC's Safehouse (39-bed emergency shelter) and also is a facilitator in FCC's Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) in Houston County, presented some startling domestic violence statistics.
The BIPP allows the agency to take a wholistic approach to domestic violence by, not only providing services to survivors but also providing groups to perpetrators of domestic violence, said Kartye in introducing Pace to speak at the event.
"According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will experience violence from their partner in their lifetime," Pace said. "Nationwide, an average of three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner every day.
"Approximately 15½ million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. Children exposed to violence are more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution and commit sexual assault crimes."
Pace continued, "Men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or domestic violence as children are almost four times more likely than other men to perpetrate domestic violence as adults.
"Domestic violence has been estimated to cost employers in the U.S. up to $13 billion each year. Between one quarter and one half of domestic violence victims report that they lost their jobs, at least in part, due to domestic violence."
These are some "pretty astounding statistics," Kartye said. "Maybe you are a survivor of domestic violence. Maybe you're not. It affects all of us. It truly has an impact on everyone."
Calling FCC-Crockett legal advocate Maria Rodriguez "the true star of our agency here in Houston County," Kartye introduced Rodriguez to speak next.
"I have been working with victims of domestic violence for over 26 years," Rodriguez said. "One of the reasons why I started working with victims of domestic violence was because of my background—because of what I went through with my children and my sister's children.
"My sister was killed in 1983 by her husband and she left three children—12, nine and two years old. At that time, there was not the help that there is now.
"My husband and I did not know what to do. We didn't get any help. We had to pay for the funeral ourselves. We didn't know anything about counseling.
"I knew I had to get some kind of help for the children. I focused on my sister's children, and not mine. I didn't focus on my husband or myself. I was just focusing on those children who lost their mother. Our lives had been split in an instant. We did not know what to do. It was very hard to move on.
"At that time, my husband and I had two children. So, all of a sudden, we had five, and one of them was almost a teenager."
Rodriguez said after her sister's husband killed her sister, he fled and disappeared for 13½ years. When Rodriguez's family heard of him again, she said, he had been in El Paso and unfortunately had killed another woman, a common-law wife, there. He is now serving time in prison, but will be eligible for parole in six years, she said. "And it's very sad."
This ordeal has been very hard on her and her family, Rodriguez said. "That's one of the reasons I believe in this agency (Family Crisis Center). I believe in the help we give. And I'm very excited with the BIPP as well."
She said getting help that is needed and stopping domestic violence is important.
In addition, County Attorney Daphne Session and County Attorney Investigator Buck Carroll, who assist FCC in many ways, spoke at the noonday gathering.
"Domestic violence is a serious crime," said Carroll, who also is Crime Victim Assistance Coordinator in the County Attorney's Office. "It should be recognized and treated as such. Many times, the best way to attack a problem or to get someone to recognize a problem is through the criminal justice system.
"We should all treat domestic violence as a serious crime. If we, as a society, treat domestic violence the same way as we treat violence against anyone else, any other person, involving violence against strangers, the impact would be even greater. There's one thing that batterers take seriously, and that's brushes with the law."
Carroll added, "Domestic violence is complex. It involves behaviors among those who love and care for each other."
Session, who at times broke down in tears, said, "At the County Attorney's Office, we work really hard to support the victims who we have—who come into our office—whether they are named as victims on a criminal case that we are pursuing or they come in for a protective order.
"We try to encourage them. We try to help guide them through the (legal) system. We try to support them. We refer them to resources, like the (Family) Crisis Center for help. We try to be their sounding board and some of the people behind them who say, 'You can do this. We know it's difficult. We know it's hard, but we'll help you through it.
"We ask that you help support whatever victim you might know who is in your life. Help them through the tough decisions.... We try to do the best we can, and we just ask that you, as part of our community, try to do the best you can too when it comes to our victims.
Others who spoke were Mary Curtis, FCC-Crockett counselor; Maria Raley, FCC child advocate; and Glenna Harkness, FCC program director. Harkness said, in 2016, FCC, which serves nine East Texas counties, provided over 118,000 services to 1,200 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.