Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence




Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence

Brings Leaders Together to Address Domestic Violence in San Antonio


By Blithe Wiley

Photography by David Teran




Judge Monique Diaz, 150th District Court & Maria Villagómez, Deputy City Manager.




In San Antonio, approximately 40,000 domestic violence-related calls are made to the San Antonio Police Department annually, with a spike to nearly 46,000 calls in 2019. And it is a known fact that there are many more domestic violence incidents each year that go unreported. 


Domestic violence is the establishment of control and fear in a relationship through violence and other forms of abuse. This violence can take the form of physical assault, psychological abuse, social abuse, financial abuse, or sexual assault. While the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, men can also be victims. 


In 2018, Bexar County held the disturbing distinction of being the county with the highest rate of domestic violence homicides in the state of Texas. This shocking statistic spurred a call to action, and San Antonio City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and City Councilman Manny Pelaez asked the Department of Human Services (DHS) and Metropolitan Health District (Metro Health) to prepare a report on city and county domestic violence-related services. The evaluation included available services, systems of data collection and analysis, and community responses to family violence, including by law enforcement, social services, courts, and educators. The report also identified gaps in service and potential system improvements in incident reporting and follow-up.


As a result of this report, Local Administrative District Court Judge Peter Sakai created the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence. Co-Chaired by Deputy City Manager Maria Villagómez and 150th District Court Judge Monique Diaz, the Commission includes local leaders in government, the judiciary, law enforcement, prosecution, nonprofits, and health care and education agencies.


“The Commission is the first City-County initiative to bring together leaders from multiple entities to address the issue of domestic violence,” said Diaz. “This diverse group works collectively to determine how we can be most effective in addressing and preventing domestic violence.”



The Commission works to identify the gaps in domestic violence services and implement evidence-based strategies to address these. “Historically, domestic violence has been addressed in silos. With the Commission, every committee has representatives from other committees to ensure we are making a comprehensive effort to prevent domestic violence and come up with effective solutions,” Diaz explained.


“One of the greatest benefits of this collaborative approach is that we now have a road map to follow,” said Villagómez. “We’ve been able to identify gaps in the services we provide, and we are intentionally working to address these gaps.


“We have been dealing with domestic violence at the city and county levels for a very long time,” Villagómez continued. “The beauty of this initiative is that we have all the local entities coming together to address the root causes of and solutions for domestic violence.” 



A Lasting Impact Due To COVID-19


Without a doubt, the ongoing pandemic has had a huge impact on the incidence of domestic violence. People already at the highest risk of domestic violence faced increasingly dangerous circumstances resulting from mandated physical isolation, joblessness, lack of mobility, and housing instability. 


“Because of COVID, victims were often stuck at home with their abusers,” Diaz said. “I am proud we were able to pivot to provide help to victims during this time.”


Working with Metro Health, Commission members developed innovative ways to provide support to victims during this time. Commercials helped inform the public that domestic violence victims can now text 911 and can apply for a protective order online.


Historically, communities relied on law enforcement data to determine the prevalence of domestic violence and identify gaps in services offered. The sustained, multi-sector approach provided by the Commission pulls additional data from area nonprofits, healthcare agencies, and educational institutions.



Breaking the Cycle & Addressing Flaws in the System


“A major focus of the Commission is addressing the root causes of domestic violence,” Diaz said. “These include childhood trauma compounded by legal stressors and economic stressors, as well as major life changes such as a pregnancy.”


After graduating from St. Mary’s School of Law, Diaz served as a City Attorney and City Prosecutor, charged with the duties of drafting and enforcing ordinances for municipalities statewide. 


When she started her own legal practice, Diaz represented numerous victims of domestic violence, along with low-income families, small businesses, nonprofits, and government entities.


Along the way, she identified a flaw in the legal system. Individuals convicted of domestic violence are prohibited from possessing a firearm, yet the court system is not set up to monitor this in practice.


“When I asked Judge Sakai for support on addressing this issue, I learned that he was already in negotiations with City Manager Erik Walsh to create the CCDV. So, based on my experience and interest, he asked me to Co-Chair the Commission.”


In early 2021 Villagómez was appointed Co-Chair of the Commission by City Manager Erik Walsh to replace then Co-Chair Dr. Colleen Bridger, who retired from serving as Assistant City Manager. As a member of the Executive Leadership Team, she currently oversees the Police Department, Fire Department, and Office of Management and Budget. Villagómez has spent over twenty years in municipal government with the City of San Antonio. Prior to her appointment as Deputy City Manager, she served three years as an Assistant City Manager overseeing the Departments of Parks and Recreation, Human Services, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Innovation, Equity Office, and the Immigration Liaison.


Villagómez notes that people who suffer abuse as children are more likely to become perpetrators of domestic violence as adults. “This is what we call the ‘cycle of domestic violence,'” she said. “This is why early intervention is so important.” 


The Commission’s focus is on providing public health solutions to domestic violence. This approach addresses “upstream” factors to prevent “downstream” consequences. In practice, this means that providing public health solutions like supporting positive parenting can help prevent social problems like domestic violence and even domestic violence-related homicide. These efforts can take many years to change outcomes. 




According to the Commission’s website, “Individuals who are physically abused by an intimate partner are more likely to have experienced abuse as a child. Children who experience physical abuse or neglect are at greater risk for committing violence against peers, teen dating violence, and committing child abuse, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence later in life. A public health approach is not a quick fix but a slow, deep change to systems and whole communities. It requires sustained, multi-sector commitment and transparent evaluation of what is working and what isn’t to make change rooted in evidence.”


Last year, the Commission’s committees were tasked with preparing the 2020 First Year Report. This report outlines each committee’s multi-year strategies for implementation. In 2021, committees that completed Year 1 strategies are selecting Year 2 strategies to continue preventing and responding to domestic violence in Bexar County. The Year 1 strategies include:


  • Develop a referral process for individuals seeking domestic violence assistance.
  • Develop and disseminate a communications campaign.


  • Implement a program to enforce existing laws prohibiting firearm possession with a protective order or conviction of domestic violence. 
  • Expand the capacity for legal services, including non-attorney legal advocates.


Law Enforcement
  • Pilot high-risk domestic violence program.


  • Facilitate school district adoption of evidence-based violence prevention curriculum for implementation in schools. 
  • Identify and develop additional sources of pro-bono legal representation for protective orders.


  • Implement system assessment using an evidence-based tool.



The CCDV and the City of San Antonio hosted six virtual townhalls on local television stations from April to October 2020. In total, CCDV events reached 63,812 individuals. Each committee identified topics to enhance collaboration and public engagement. 


In addition, the Commission developed the CCDV Domestic Violence Awareness Symposium to facilitate community learning on domestic violence best practices. The Symposium offered three tracks: Community, Civil Law, and Criminal Law. In total, 3,641 individuals attended the 16 sessions. 


“Each committee is developing and implementing strategies to address domestic violence and provide meaningful intervention,” said Villagómez. Our entire premise is that domestic violence is preventable and not inevitable.” 








or call 210-733-8810


If it’s an emergency call 911.



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