McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Dressed in purple to commemorate National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a South Texas county attorney disclosed Thursday that he has been the victim of domestic abuse.
“Victims say, ‘you don’t really know how I feel,'” Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said. “Well, I have been a victim of domestic violence and it’s hard to discuss. But I can tell you that I understand the same sentiment as victims, and I know what they’re going through. I know what they’re living through, and I’m not ashamed of it.”
Speaking with an emotional lilt to his voice, Rodriguez unveiled a new domestic-violence alert app that, he says, his border county will be the first in the nation to use.
Staff and app developers, who were also wearing purple to raise awareness, joined Rodriguez, who says the new app will help law enforcement quickly identify domestic-abuse situations and send help.
“This new initiative and resource will be a huge gamechanger to providing protection to victims of domestic violence,” Rodriguez said during a news conference, which, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was broadcast on Facebook Live from Edinburg County Commissioners’ chambers.
Called Victim Initiated Notification (VIN), the app allows victims of domestic violence to automatically send video and audio, and their GPS location to law enforcement. Victims must register with local law enforcement officials who could then respond. Victims can either send the images manually or, after 30 seconds, the app will automatically send an alert to the closest law agency.
Rodriguez said he is a firm believer that those who suffer domestic violence should speak out and get help. He says those who commit domestic violence abuse can also be rehabilitated and helped.
“I share that very personal information of my life because that person changed,” Rodriguez said. “And I love that person today, more than ever. The message is the person can change for a better life, for a better living, for the betterment of their children.”
Rodriguez said the region has experienced a significant uptick in domestic violence since shelter-in-place orders were imposed due to COVID-19. At least 1,200 cases of domestic abuse have been reported, the most ever at this point in the calendar year.
Five people — four women and one man — died as a result of domestic violence, and two McAllen police officers were killed while responding to a domestic abuse call in July, his office said.
Rodriguez’s office also said 213 people this year have been housed in a local shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
The app was produced by Justice Alert Technologies, which is run by a nurse who Thursday said she is also the victim of domestic abuse.
The pilot program is being paid for by a grant from the Texas Governor’s office, which administers the state’s Violence Against Women’s Act, said Gloria Terry, CEO of the Texas Council on Family Violence, an Austin-based nonprofit organization.
“These innovative strategies will help us to conquer this scourge in our society that tears at the very fabric of our society,” said Terry, who came to Edinburg on Thursday to announce the new app, which she said has not been used elsewhere in Texas or the nation.
In 2019, 185 people in Texas were killed due to domestic violence. They ranged in age from a 15-year-old girl to an 87-year-old woman, she said. And she fears that due to the societal and economic stresses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, there will be many more casualties.
“We need to brace ourselves for that reality and we need to recognize the fight is still real. The fight continues. And we brace ourselves for the potential for this significant increase,” Terry said.
Hidalgo County has had the second-most deaths from COVID-19 of any county in Texas with 1,698 fatalities, including 17 on Wednesday, county officials reported. There have been nearly 32,000 cases and aggressive lock-down measures have been in place for months, which Rodriguez says can set the stage for aggressive abuse to happen behind locked doors in homes.
“This app gives another layer of protection to victims and potential victims who are out there,” Rodriguez said.
More information on the VIN app can be found at www.safevictim.com.