Community members rally outside courthouse to spread awareness of domestic violence

Photo courtesy of Jacob Courtney

Twelve members of the Victim Studies Department at Sam Houston State University and SAAFE House rallied for two hours to promote domestic violence awareness in front of the Walker County Courthouse on Thursday evening. The event is part of a series of activities held to observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The observation of Domestic Violence Awareness month started in 1987 to educate people if they or someone they know could be in an abusive relationship, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“People aren’t aware all the time about all the categories enveloped under it,” second-year graduate student of Victim Studies and Crime Victim Institute graduate research assistant Alyssa Linares said. “So, I think it’s important for us to come out here and say, hey, there are survivors; there is so many of them.”

Domestic violence does not only come with physical assault on a partner. There is also sexual, emotional, financial and internet abuse that affects all kinds of relationships between romantic partners and family.

“I think it becomes abuse when the person feels like they don’t have any power,” Linares said.

Department Chair for Victims Studies Shelly Clevenger was there to represent the only such program offered by a college in Texas. Starting in 2020, the members of the program studied the many areas of domestic violence.

Clevenger explained that many survivors stay silent, particularly in minority communities such as the LGBTQ+ community, because of a fear of not being believed.

Another reason is the forementioned financial abuse.

“It can really keep people from leaving abusive relationships,” assistant professor of Victim Studies Dr. Kathleen Ratajczak said.

Financial abuse can come from a person withholding funds, credit or debit cards or even moving to a city where only the abusive partner can provide income.

A survivor can come to the realization of abusive behavior but have no reinforcement from people outside of the relationship.

“Their friends would say that, oh he’s a sweet guy, he doesn’t mean it, give him another chance,” Ratajczak said.

The professor said that one should look at the intent of actions if they repeat acts to control and belittle a person.

There are many resources available for those living in Huntsville, Texas who are suffering in a domestic violent situation. These include the Huntsville Police department, speaking to counseling services or staying with the SAAFE House. SAAFE House provided safe spaces for people leaving abusive relationships 24-hour hotlines at (936) 291-3369 or (936) 327-2513.

“We do see a lot of people from the community,” sexual assault advocate at SAAFE House Tracy Szymczak said. “Maybe 40% to 60% of our clients are actually from Huntsville and the other 40% come from college students or other cities.”

Szymczak said that many clients find it hard to move past their abusive relationships from the long-lasting emotion and verbal abuse.

Linares remembered a mother of several children leaving an abusive man she was with for 10 years. She remembered her dependence transformed into independence over nine months, working with the woman every day.

“Just listen to them, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions,” Linares said. “Reassure them, be there for them and listen to them.”

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