Dallas mayor, county leaders renew campaign to curb domestic violence

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by REBECCA LOPEZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @rlopezwfaa

WFAA

Posted on October 8, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 8 at 6:26 PM

DALLAS –– While many domestic violence cases come with patterns, history and a police record, the tragedy of Esmeralda Gonzalez had none of those. 

According to a Dallas police incident report, the 34-year-old was shot dead by her boyfriend on Monday night. He killed himself before police arrived. Advocates say Gonzalez may be one of many domestic violence victims who suffered in silence.

"It happens behind closed doors but those behaviors are things other people have seen,” said Paige Flink, a director of the Dallas-based shelter The Family Place.

In most cases, Flink says someone knows it's happening, which is why Mayor Mike Rawlings wants to do more to get people to speak up.

Rawlings says he was stunned when he learned the number of women abused every year in Dallas. In 2013, more than 7,000 will be abused. 

“I didn't know about it, I felt embarrassed as a man not knowing about it,” he said. “So I shamed myself as a man and called on men to step up on this issue."

Earlier this year, Rawlings launched a city imitative meant to curb domestic violence. In March, more than 5,000 people attended an open-air rally at City Hall to denounce the epidemic.

Now, Dallas Police Chief David Brown and County District Attorney Craig Watkins are working on a better system to hold abusers accountable.

“We need to raise our level of responsiveness, raise our level of accountability to these women and raise our level of case filings and arrest those who are wanted for this,” Watkins said.

Dallas police officers are now doing lethality assessments at every domestic violence call to see how critical the situation is.

Officers now “identify high risk victims and high risk perpetrators and do something different in our court systems,” Brown said.

Police are working with the DA’s office and judges to hold suspects in jail longer and move cases through the system quicker to get abusers into counseling faster. It won't save everyone, like Esmeralda Gonzales, but advocates say they can intervene and save many others. 

Rawlings’ imitative has also spread to the Dallas Independent School District, which is fighting domestic violence under the Friday night lights. On Nov. 7 and 8, the district will interrupt 20 of its halftime shows to ask young men to take a pledge against domestic abuse.

“The fact that we have this type of venue to reach so many people (about) not hitting women,” said Athletic Director Jeff Johnson. “Be a man. Stand up.” 

Johnson became emotional when speaking about what the initiative means to him. He said he has two daughters, one of whom is not yet married. 

“It's my goal as a father that she find that individual that will not hit her or abuse her but will love and nourish her,” he said. 

Among those supporting the efforts is former Baltimore Raven cornerback Chris Johnson. His sister Jennifer was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend in Fort Worth. Johnson says men need to police themselves.

“Until you make that decision that I am not going to put my hand on a woman you are not going to change,” Johnson said. “So it really starts with the man. Period."

The youngest victim of domestic violence In Texas was a 15-year-old girl murdered by her boyfriend. Advocates say to sideline abuse officials must start young. 

“We are going to have a call to action each young man in the audience is going to take,” Rawlings said.

Email rlopez@wfaa.com

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