Domestic abuse victims remembered at vigil

McALLEN — Mary recounted years of abuse at the hands of her guardians and two of her romantic partners at a candlelight vigil Thursday evening.

“I was tied up, beaten up and held in a bathroom,” she said about her earliest childhood memories. “And I remember I used to get so thirsty, I would flush the commode and flush it (again), hoping the next time I flushed, the water would come out clean.”

Mary was one of two survivors who shared harrowing stories at this year’s Mujeres Unidas Candlelight Vigil, where more than 100 people gathered at Fireman’s Park to remember the casualties of domestic abuse.

Seven females and one male have been killed in Hidalgo County this year as a result of violence in the home, Mujeres Unidas Executive Director Estella De Anda said. She listed each of the victim’s names while volunteers lit a candle in remembrance.

“It takes a lot of courage to come up and talk about such personal trauma that they suffered in their lives,” De Anda said about Mary and Jenny, the other survivor who shared her stories of abuse, but most importantly survival. “Despite their trauma, they are able to stand before you tonight and say ‘I’m a survivor and I’m doing fine now because there was help — not only from Mujeres Unidas, but from law enforcement, our district attorney and the community.’”

The yearly event is one of several the local nonprofit puts together during October, which is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It aims to raise awareness and encourages victims to seek help.

Help is out there, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said.

“Those individuals need a lot of help,” Rodriguez said, “and there’s a lot of resources out there where we can guide them to get that help in the sense of shelter, in the sense of counseling, financial (help), and any trauma they are having.”

Now in its 38th year of existence, Mujeres Unidas continues to offer a variety of support for women, men and children in abusive situations, including a secure shelter where victims can begin to heal from their physical and mental wounds.

Jenny said she first approached Mujeres Unidas to get legal advice on how to divorce her husband. Even though she suffered physical, emotional and verbal abuse at the hands of her husband, she initially told staff she wasn’t in an abusive relationship.

It wasn’t because she was lying, but instead she had been programmed to believe violence in the home was commonplace. Her father was an alcoholic with a temper and her husband, whom she met at the age of 15, had been too.

“As humans, we adapt to situations — even if they’re not good,” she said. “I feel that’s what happened with me.”

Jenny recalled the daily mental struggle and her desire to help her husband overcome his alcoholism despite the repeated abuse and his promise that it wouldn’t happen again.

“I thought I needed to help him get out of that situation, but really it was me that needed to get out,” she said Thursday.

When she finally reached out to Mujeres Unidas, staff there asked her to describe her relationship, and when she finished, Jenny was stunned by what staff told her.

“ She told me ‘you are in an abusive relationship’ and when she said that, I felt like a blindfold had been taken off my eyes,” Jenny said, trying to hold back tears.

It has taken time for both survivors to heal, though some scars remain. Yet, they remain optimistic about their lives and the possibilities that lie ahead.

“There is help,” both women stressed.

For more information about Mujeres Unidas, call 1(800) 580-4879.

nlopez@themonitor.com