The shelter is in its 30th year of providing free emergency shelter and supporting services to victims of abuse living in Karnes County and beyond.
According to a poll from the Texas Council on Family Violence, 74 percent of Texans have experienced domestic violence or know someone who has. The poll also shows that 114 Texas women lost their lives to domestic violence in 2012, and Texas programs that help domestic violence victims answered 191,301 hotline calls in 2012.
“If a disease was affecting 74 percent of our community, we would rally around those who were affected. We would never blame them for their disease. We would demand a cure to the epidemic,” said Jennifer Fernandez, the Outreach and Prevention Specialist at the Guadalupe Valley Family Violence Shelter (GVFVS). “But when that epidemic is domestic violence, we don’t talk about it. We blame the victim by asking why she didn’t just leave. We ignore the problem, thinking that it is a private family matter that stays behind closed doors. Every victim is someone’s child, someone’s parent, sibling, friend, neighbor, or coworker.”
Fernandez has worked with victims of family violence and sexual assault for fifteen years. She had served on the Board of Directors of the shelter for seven years and has now been working specifically at the shelter for the past two and-a-half years.
Though based in Guadalupe County, GVFVS has been committed to serve and help domestic violence victims that live in the communities of Karnes County.
Fernandez explains that in rural communities, such as the ones in Karnes County, domestic violence victims and survivors have limited access to the resources they need to recover from abuse and to build a safe and self-sufficient life.
“To meet this need, an advocate is available to travel to Karnes County to meet with survivors and provide services in a safe location,” said Fernandez. “Our services are designed to offer a holistic approach to help in the survivor’s recovery and to build a life free from violence.”
GVFVS provides emergency shelter, a 24-hour crisis hotline, safety planning, crisis intervention, counseling, legal advocacy, case management, accompaniment to court, assistance with Crime Victims Compensation claims, HEART (Help End Abusive Relationship Tendencies) support program, parenting program, children’s services, information, and referrals.
A person does not have to stay in the shelter to receive services. Services are provided on both a residential or nonresidential basis.
GVFVS not only helps women victims of domestic violence, but also helps the children involved in those situations as well.
Fernandez says the shelter sees children who have been through so much, whether they were a target of abuse or they were witness to it. The effects of domestic violence on children can be devastating, according to Fernandez, and children who witness domestic violence are substantially more likely to become victims or batterers in their future relationships.
GVFVS provides services to the child to help in their recovery, such as counseling and play therapy, and the shelter’s parenting program helps mothers understand the effects of violence on their children, the unique emotional needs they have, and how to help meet those needs.
Services are also provided to adult male survivors of abuse, with the exception of emergency shelter. If men are in need of emergency shelter, GVFVS will refer to programs that provide that service.
“Domestic violence is not just a women’s issue,” Fernandez emphasized. “Men are also victims of abuse, and they are even less likely to report it and seek help because they fear they won’t be believed. Domestic violence is a community problem. The victims are people that we know, that we love and care for. They deserve better. Our children deserve better. Our communities deserve better. We can all be part of the solution.”
Fernandez relates that the greatest sense of satisfaction she gets from her work is getting to be a part, however small, in someone’s success story.
“It is such an honor to watch someone make the transformation from victim to survivor, to see them find their voice again and realize how strong they really are,” she said.
“It’s time to end the silence and start conversations. It is time to show support to survivors and hold batterers accountable. It is time to send a message that we will not tolerate this in our community.”
For more information or for those needing help, the Guadalupe Valley Family Violence Shelter can be reached at 1-800-834-2033 or 830-372-2780, or write to the shelter’s mailing address at P.O. Box 1302 Seguin, TX 78155.