Silent Struggle: Domestic Violence in Cameron County

Words by Zoraya Berlanga Aguilar

Edited by Abigail Vela

Trigger Warning: The following article contains content relating to sexual assault and domestic violence cases.

It was, at first, the relationship Sol had been looking for. It started as two friends who shared similar heartbreaks. “It was so easy to talk for hours to each other. It seemed too good to be true,” she said. Over time, their friendship blossomed into a close and romantic connection. On one of their initial outings as a couple, he exhibited the first indication of the beginning of a coercive and abusive relationship. Little did she know that his jealousy would eventually result in numerous instances of physical abuse. She would rationalize his mistreatment by attributing it to his emotional instability. 

Later in the relationship, they became engaged and moved in together, and she held onto the hope that things would get better. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for Sol. He became physically violent towards her. Her initial encounter occurred during a Christmas party when he abruptly turned aggressive towards her. Unexpectedly, he drove off to the beach with her after the party. “All I can remember was that it was super cold, and I was wearing a dress… I tried to run away. I begged him to stop,” she said. From there on, she became frightened and trapped, unable to break free from him. It felt futile, as if her life had already reached its unfortunate conclusion. 

With each violent encounter, she tried to fight him back but felt hopeless and weak. Eventually, she became pregnant with his child, but the abuse continued. One night, he became extremely violent, leading to her miscarriage. “I have more incidents than I can count with my two hands,” she shared. 

Sol had contacted the police about three times, each a different violent encounter. Unfortunately, each time she made a report, the police didn’t do anything to protect her nor provide her with any necessary resources for her protection.

A red door opens, allowing a yellow light to fill the room. A yellow circle is drawn around the door and orange walls.
Illustration by Alicia Garza

Rise of Domestic Violence in Cameron County

On average, 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence, and 1 in 4 women experience severe violence by an intimate partner. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death for many victims— In the United States, 55% of all homicides result from domestic violence. 

From 2015 to 2021, the Rio Grande Valley reported 35 domestic violence homicides. In fact, there’s been an increase in domestic violence reports in the RGV each year.

On August 17, 2023, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz reported that a “recent homicide is the latest in an increase of domestic violence cases.” This was the case of Jocelyn Morales, who was only 22 years old and murdered by her common-law husband Abel Giovani Nava due to jealousy problems. The murder took place in their home, which Abel fled after killing Jocelyn. This case has raised public and policy attention on domestic violence in Cameron County and the rest of the RGV. 

Going back 13 years, on August 25, 2010, the city of Brownsville reported one of the most horrific cases of intimate partner femicide. Seventeen-year-old Tiffany Vanessa Galvan had been brutally killed by her ex-boyfriend, Javier De La Rosa. The motive for her death was being pregnant with his child. He met with her at Benavides Park and stabbed her 48 times (back, neck, face, and arms). An autopsy later found that the victim was not pregnant.

Identifying Domestic Violence: Recognizing the Warning Signs

As Sol pointed out, detecting red flags in an intimate relationship can be challenging. Whether this held true for Jocelyn and Tiffany, it’s clear that exiting the relationship becomes more difficult once these warning signs manifest physically. These stories emphasize the importance of educating young adults and adults about intimate partner violence and recognizing the early signs of abuse. 

Here are some common signs of domestic violence:

  • Physical abuse: Any form of physical harm (kicking, hitting, slapping, etc.)
  • Sexual abuse: Forcing/coercing a partner into sexual activities against their will.
  • Verbal and Emotional abuse: Insults, degradation, constant criticism, threats, and manipulation to control the victim. 
  • Stalking: Persistent and unwanted attention can be done using social media, phone calls, and in person.
  • Isolation: Isolation from family and friends, making the victim feel alone and dependent on the abuser.
  • Financial abuse: Controlling finances and/or limiting access to money.
  • Gaslighting: Manipulation of victims’ perception of reality.
  • Control: Attempting to control the victim’s life choices.
  • Excessive Jealousy: possessiveness can lead to controlling behavior and emotional abuse.
  • Threats and Intimidation: using threats like harming victims’ family and destroying victims’ property to maintain control.

It is important to check up on your loved ones. Most victims of domestic violence hide the violence from their friends and family due to shame, embarrassment, and guilt. 

An infographic wheel known as The Deluth Model, which denotes the patterns of violence in relatiionships. The words “Power and Control” are at the center of the wheel.
The Duluth Model, retrieved on September 22, 2023.

Honoring Victims of Domestic Violence

In remembrance of all victims of domestic violence, Tiffany Vanessa Galvan and Jocelyn Morales, you will not be forgotten.

A young girl with long brown hair and brown eyes wearing a pink sweater, smiling at the camera.
Tiffany Vanessa Galvan, Find a Grave, retrieved September 22, 2023.
A young girl with curly brown hair and brown eyes, wearing glasses, shyly smiling at the camera.
Jocelyn Morales, photo courtesy of People, retrieved on September 22, 2023

If you or a loved one are in need of help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the following organizations located throughout the Rio Grande Valley, whose mission is to provide support and resources to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault:

Friendship of Women, Inc. – Based in Brownsville, Texas

Family Crisis Center – Based in Harlingen, Texas

Mujeres Unidas – Based in McAllen, Texas

Angels of Love – Based in McAllen, Texas

Office for Advocacy and Violence Prevention at UTRGV – Based in Edinburg, Texas

For National resources, please refer to:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) Or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

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