On Tuesday evening, the Mission Event Center gleamed in purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The city of Mission and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office discussed the continuous fight against domestic violence and abuse in the Rio Grande Valley community.
The event began with flashes of red and blue from law enforcement patrol cars and a small motorcade of city and county officials riding in purple-decorated golf carts. Police Departments across the RGV, such as Palmview, Sullivan, San Juan, Mercedes, and Brownsville, attended to show their support.
“Domestic violence continues to be a big problem within our communities, particularly in South Texas,” said Mission Chief of Police Cesar Torres.
Chief Torres gave a message to victims experiencing domestic violence, saying that law enforcement is supportive during and after the trauma endured.
“We understand that it is very difficult, especially when your loved one is the breadwinner of the house,” he said. “He as a person, or sometimes she, is the one that really should be supporting the family with love and peace, and that doesn’t happen.”
For abusers, Torres says the message is clear.
“If you commit any crime against a person, especially your spouse or kids, we will identify you, we will track you down, and we will take you to custody,” he said. “And of course, you will be prosecuted through the full extent of the law.”
In the city of Mission, Torres says the PD gets over 500 calls related to domestic violence, with 6,000 calls county-wide a year.
“It’s a big problem,” he said.
Speaker Judge Sergio Valdez said that machismo continues to influence families and their handling of mental health and domestic violence.
“While growing up, we believed domestic violence was normal,” he said. “And lots of us, frankly, we grew up in that environment.”
He highlighted local organizations, such as Mujeres Unidas and the District Attorney’s Intake Unit, as resources to reach out to break the cycle of abuse.
“Unless we educate the children and bring it to light, we’re not going to succeed,” he said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Everardo Villarreal offered his office as a place to seek trusted resources for those hesitant to leave a violent relationship.
“Sometimes someone facing domestic violence is afraid to leave because they don’t have anywhere to go or nowhere to ask for assistance,” Villarreal said. “We have a safe place for you, and we will help.”
Alex Benavidez, Hidalgo County DA’s Office First Assistant District Attorney, called upon the community to help prevent abuse if one witnesses or suspects someone experiencing interpersonal violence.
“With that support, and the continued hard efforts of our local law enforcement agencies, and with the aggressive prosecution and rehabilitation of domestic violence offenders, we can combat domestic violence,” he said. “And we will reduce the impact. And also, the trauma that has been brought upon our community.”
Benavidez said that in the county courts of law, the DA’s office sees a significant number of domestic violence cases.
“Frequent numbers we see there,” Benavidez said, with family assault being a concerning trend. “Hopefully, with awareness events like this and other events that will be taking place throughout our county this month, it brings awareness to that issue.”
Guest speaker Gloria Terry of the Texas Council on Family Violence, a statewide nonprofit coalition of hundreds of organizations that help survivors, defined the organization’s work.
“We’re most known for our policy work. So we’re the ankle-biters in Austin that are working rigorously to change laws and create greater protections,” Terry said.
The TCFV also does statewide data analysis to show political leaders and policymakers what is going on inside homes across Texas. On Thursday, their report, Honoring Texas Victims, released a comprehensive analysis of domestic violence homicides.
Over 72,000 people, primarily women and children, were kept safe and were able to report domestic violence, according to Terry.
“We do a very intentional approach to understand what is happening in our communities so that report becomes an instrument of change,” she said.
Through the evening ceremony, officials welcomed survivor Frida Suarez, who found freedom from an abusive marriage.
“Three years ago, I met my first boyfriend. The man of my dreams, my blue prince, the love of my life,” she said. “Two years ago, I married that man, the happiest day of my life.”
A month after they married, Suarez’s abuser would attempt to take her life.
“On Sept. 3, my husband unexpectedly returned home to kill me at 22 years old,” Suarez said. Suarez recalls the traumatic incident: being on the asphalt in the middle of the street, her abuser pointing a gun at her head while she begged for her life.
“I wondered if I was going to die on the floor and become a statistic of violence,” she said. “In that moment, he, in those seconds of consciousness or unconsciousness, took his life in that moment.”
Suarez could never know what his motives were that night, and despite the pain of losing him, she couldn’t deny the abuse she endured.
“I couldn’t deny the life I lived was domestic violence,” she told those in attendance, realizing there were signs she either did not see or did not choose to see that pointed to an unhealthy relationship.
“It’s not normal that they have you second guess yourself. It isn’t normal to stop loving yourself first to love someone else,” Suarez said. “It isn’t normal that they physically abuse you, and it isn’t normal that your partner would want to kill you.”
The survivor, reliving her abuse through her story, was sure she gained freedom that September night.
“I’m sure that somehow his death freed me,” she said. “Luck did not save me…it was God and my guardian angels. I thank God because I’m here today, alive, sharing a small snippet of the start of my life.”