As a Santa Barbara County deputy district attorney for the past three years, Billy Ha said that more than half of the cases he’s prosecuted have involved domestic violence.
When selecting juries for those cases that go to trial, Ha said that he frequently hears a lot of skepticism from potential jurors. Often, he said, some will ask why the case is going to trial if the victim — typically a woman — doesn’t want to prosecute, or they’ll ask why they should they believe the word of the victim since “women make up things all the time.” Sometimes, he said, they’ll question the victim’s motives or ask what she stands to gain.
“I always tell jurors in almost every closing argument I give that you're here in a criminal case and you're not gonna see surveillance videos of an act taking place; you're not gonna find forensic DNA normally when you're dealing with domestic violence,” Ha said.
“I tell them that domestic violence isn’t a crime of science, it’s really a crime of silence,” he added. “It’s so important that we, as members of the community, give victims that voice.”
Ha made those comments to a group of about 75 people who gathered in the courtyard outside Lompoc City Hall on Thursday evening for the 31st annual Domestic Violence Awareness Vigil. The event, which was presented by several local agencies, aimed to provide a voice to those victims of domestic violence and raise awareness of the nature of the crimes.
The gathering opened with a proclamation from Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl and City Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne that declared October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and near the end included a candlelight memorial walk down a couple blocks of East Ocean Avenue.
The ceremony also featured comments from several speakers on the sensitive subject, silent witness statements that focused on local victims of domestic violence, as well as performances from the Lompoc High School Sapphire Dance Team, a musical interlude from a pair of young Lompoc girls, and a song from the Lompoc High School choir.
In one of the more emotional presentations, a survivor of domestic violence shared intimate details of her own experiences dealing with abuse first from her father, then her uncle and then from her husband.
Gretchen — she only gave her first name, and one of the organizers asked that no photos or videos be taken of her — said she first experienced verbal and occasional physical abuse from her father when she was a child. As a high school freshman, she said, she was molested and raped by her dad’s brother.
“I didn’t tell anyone,” she said. “I knew how to detach and I thought this was my fault and I was afraid of what my dad might do to me.”
She said she finally reported the crime after two years, and her uncle was ultimately sentenced to five years in prison. Still, she said, many in her family shunned her for “telling the truth.”
At 17, she said she became romantically involved with a 23-year-old man who seemed like he loved and cared for her. Over time, she said, their relationship became extremely toxic and violent and that this man, whom she went on to marry, would often beat and manipulate her and make her feel like she was the one at fault.
She said she finally escaped the situation, but in doing so had to leave behind her kids for her own safety. She struggled to speak as she wiped away tears while describing how the decision to escape with nothing to her name was the hardest thing she had ever done.
Still, Gretchen said, “it was worth it.”
She encouraged law enforcement officers to be more receptive to victims of domestic violence, as she pointed out some of the things she felt were mishandled in her own experience. She also offered words of encouragement to any women being abused in their current relationships.
“Give yourself a chance to live,” she said. “Give your children a chance to live without fear and without trauma. You are perfect the way you were created; you are enough. Find your strength within and learn to love yourself. You don’t deserve this and you don’t have to tolerate it. Your life — it matters.”
The ceremony was presented by Domestic Violence Solutions, the Lompoc Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, and the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, among others.
It was the first of three planned this month in Santa Barbara County. The next will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Ethel Pope Auditorium at Santa Maria High School, and that will be followed by another Oct. 25 at the Paso Nuevo Mall in Santa Barbara.
One of the final speakers Thursday was Jan Campbell, the executive director of Domestic Violence Solutions. Campbell noted that a series of human-shaped cutouts that were placed in the background at the event were meant to represent women and children who had lost their lives in Santa Barbara County due to acts of intimate partner violence.
“As you look at these figures, we hope that you will allow yourself to be aware of the many women and children that are still being hurt and are currently in danger,” she told the attendees. “We hope that you will be moved to take some form of action, large or small, to create a safer and more peaceful world.”