Story by: Lance Winter

Statistics reveal an alarming trend exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic leaving crisis centers scrambling.

In Texas, domestic violence calls have skyrocketed. Just down the road, in nearby San Antonio, domestic violence calls have gone up almost 20% compared to when the virus first reared its ugly head in March, to the same time in 2019.

That’s why the Family Justice Center (FJC) in San Marcos is reaching out more now than ever to victims of domestic abuse and other violent crimes.

“The goal of the FJC is to provide a location where victims can receive a variety of legal and social services designed to help them get back on their feet after surviving the trauma of abuse,” said Cynthia Fowler, FJC board president. “This involves a multidisciplinary team of professionals working under one roof to coordinate and provide these services. This concept is known as “co-location.”

Fowler knows about surviving trauma. She comes to work with firsthand experience.

“In 1999, I survived a beating and strangulation attack from my husband, when our baby was three months old,” she said. “I was a waitress and musician who had not yet finished school. I escaped with nothing but the baby and a diaper bag … and could have really used our services.”

She later went back to school and got her degree in communications, and started her career.

“I’m very passionate about empowering victims, to let them know you can start over, and we can help,” Fowler added.

The first FJC located in San Diego opened in 2002. Since then, more than 120 have been built across the country and abroad. The San Marcos location opened a little more than a year ago at 215 S. Reimer in the Village Main Building.

“The FJC, with its partners, can provide an array of services that used to require victims to visit multiple agencies at multiple physical locations,” Fowler said. “Many times, victims have transportation problems and feel re-traumatized by having to tell their story over, and over again.

Fowler said the purpose of the FJC is to empower survivors of violent crimes to live free from the abuse and hold offenders accountable by providing victims easily accessible, coordinated and comprehensive services at a single location.

“The intake process is designed to streamline the information provided by victims, and coordinate partner agencies to provide a tailored response based on need,” Fowler added. “We partner — onsite — with agencies like the: Hays-Caldwell County Women’s Center, Hays County District Attorney, Hays County Sheriff’s Department, San Marcos Police Department, Buda Police Department, Kyle Police Department, Texas State University Police Department, and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.”

Fowler said the FJC works with its partner agencies to ensure the following services can be coordinated in one location giving victims the ability to achieve the following:

•File a criminal complaint

•Obtained an order of protection

•Receive legal aid for civil matters

•Transportation

•Food and shelter

•Medical care

•Professional counseling

•Spiritual care upon request

“The violence is a community issue that affects our public safety, schools, economy, health care, and criminal justice system,” Fowler said. “According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the economic impact is very real. Victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8,000,000 million days of paid work each year. Intimate partner violence is estimated to cost the US economy between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion annually.”

She added that domestic violence affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality.

“Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior as part of a much larger, systematic pattern of dominance and control,” Fowler said. “Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death. The devastating consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime. Making a difference now, not only helps those in immediate need but helps to secure a better future for everyone in our community.”

And they are making a difference. The FJC was recently awarded a grant from the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) to fund a Domestic Violence High-Risk Team Coordinator (DVHRT).

“This program is especially important in our community, as Hays County has experienced an alarming increase in domestic violence,” said Gabriela Lara, FJC executive director. “The DVHRT model framework is built on four fundamental strategies: early identification of highrisk cases through the use of risk assessment, engagement of a multidisciplinary team, ongoing monitoring and management of high-risk offenders, and victim services.”

She said the DVHRT creates individualized intervention plans that incorporate the entire domestic violence response system with the goals of increasing victim safety and holding offenders accountable.

“Marion McKenzie is the Family Justice Center’s DVHRT coordinator. In her role, she manages the administrative processes of the high-risk cases and serves as the primary contact person with domestic violence survivors who are at the highest risk,” Lara added. “Our hope with the DVHRT model is that more survivors of domestic violence will seek safety before the situation escalates to a lethal or near-lethal one.

The FJC’s highest priority is to provide a safe place for those most vulnerable in our community where offenders are not allowed.”

The Family Justice Center remains committed to the health of its staff, partners, clients, and the community. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Village Main Building remains closed. However, the FJC will continue to provide services beginning with phone intake.

“We will continue to implement procedures to maintain social distancing for the safety of all partners,” said Lara. “While our website is currently undergoing maintenance, changes to our process will be posted on our social media page. Face masks are required and will be provided along with hand sanitizer when in-person meetings are required.”

Once the facility reopens, masks and hand sanitizing stations will be provided.

Other “off-site” partners located at the Village Main Building, but in separate offices, include:

•Central Texas WIC (Women and Infant Children) The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a health and nutrition program with a successful record for improving the diet of infants, children, and pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women who are at risk for nutrition-related illness.

•Any Baby Can (ABC) With quality services that meet families where they are — at home, work, or school — Any Baby Can help clients address medical, educational, and financial obstacles, and achieve whole family well-being. ABC provides parental support and education, early childhood development, and resources for family health.

•Others: Community Action Inc. of Central Texas; Adult Education; Head Start; Texas Home Visiting; Utility Assistance; Senior Citizens; Primary Health Services; Breast & Cervical Cancer Outreach; Family Planning; HIV/AIDS assistance if you need help, please contact the FJC at 512-753-2124.

If you are in immediate danger call 911.

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