Help available for domestic violence victims

By Joanna Otero-Cruz

I have held the hands of a father with tears coursing down his cheeks as he says, “I only wish she had told me she was being hurt. I didn’t know and now it’s too late.”

I have seen the pain in the eyes of children who are growing up without their mother, as they mark what would have been her birthday with each passing year.

I have heard the fear in the voices of hotline callers as they frantically seek help for themselves and their young ones.

The number of people who have been killed by abusive partners or exes over the past month has been devastating and daunting in frequency.

Their loss is immeasurable. As is the trauma that will haunt their surviving loved ones, including triplet 2-year-olds who were made orphans with a few shots of a gun.

As I read the accounts of these tragedies, I wonder if our community is growing numb to domestic violence murder. Almost like we’ve become accustomed to the loss of innocent life and the outrageous gun violence that is wreaking havoc on families, schools and neighborhoods across our city.

Why aren’t there marches, vigils or protests demanding change? Where is the outrage or accountability? Domestic violence is a public health epidemic that affects everyone – everyone knows someone.

More than 500 people have been murdered in our city over the past year. Domestic homicides reached an all-time high in Philadelphia in 2021 and continue to spike.

When will we as a community say “no mas” and insist on a different way?

It is important to understand that leaving an abusive relationship can be extremely dangerous. Domestic violence is all about power and control, so the break-up is often when the violence can reach lethal proportions. In several of the recent cases, the victim had taken steps to break free from the abuse, including requesting a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order. But on its own, a PFA is just a piece of paper. It must be part of a larger safety plan.

That’s why I am writing – to urge anyone reading this who is experiencing relationship abuse to reach out to the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline at 866-723-3014. Trained domestic violence hotline counselors can help you create a plan for staying safe that is specific to your situation. They’ll walk you through the many aspects you’ll need to consider, like identifying a safe place to stay. How to talk with your children about what is going on. What to put in your “go bag” in case you need to run. Whether you’d like to relocate altogether to be safe.

They’ll also connect you with local resources and the Women Against Abuse familia.

We are here, ready to walk alongside you on the journey to safety. We have emergency safe havens with security and confidential locations to protect you; transitional housing to help you rebuild; and exceptional legal representation and advocacy – all free of charge. You can access these services and supports through the 24/7 Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline at 866-723-3014. So, I urge you from the bottom of my heart to reach out when you’re ready. Everyone deserves to live free of violence.

Wishing our city peace. ••

Joanna Otero-Cruz, Executive Director & President, Women Against Abuse