Traffic is up for Family Justice Center’s domestic abuse counselors, but that’s not completely a bad thing

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Domestic violence continues to be an issue in Kern County. But is it getting better or worse? If you look at activity over the last three months, the answer is worse. But if you look at what happened at the Family Justice Center on Friday, things are getting better.

A celebration of sorts was held at the center near Beach Park: More and more community partners are signing on to the District Attorney’s efforts to address, treat and prevent domestic abuse. That’s not just violence between intimate partners, although that is the image that often comes to mind. It’s also quiet intimidation, emotional abuse that makes people feel they can’t escape.

Whatever form it takes, it continues to be an issue.

The Family Justice Center, at Oak and 21st streets, broke a record that — in one sense — it wanted no part of. Some 700 walk-in victims of alleged abuse, both men and women, in July, August and September. In another sense, though, that’s good. Word is getting out.

“We have a terrible problem with domestic violence in our community,” District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said. “We have seen that play out. We have many, many cases in court. I’m proud to say, though, since we’ve opened the Family Justice Center in January 2018, we have had 10,000 victims come through these doors. Some of them are repeat clients but most of them are first time clients, and they’ve been able to get services.”

Angelica Zuniga, a victim of domestic abuse and human trafficking, didn’t have the benefit of the Family Justice Center when she went through her ordeal, but she’s overjoyed to see it helping others now.

“Until a victim understands what’s happened to them,” she said, “that’s there’s a name for it, they can’t even call and look for the resources. So that there’s actually a center here where someone can sit down and explain these are the red flags and if you feel like this is happening to you, you can come in here.”

Family Justice Center director Elizabeth Ruelas says the shared purpose of the center’s half-dozen community partners bodes well.

“When I first started, victim advocates were very rare,” she said, “and now we hear them all over the place and agencies wanting to offer victim advocacy. So that just makes me full of joy.”

What should people do if they feel they’re victims of domestic violence? According to Zuniga, first, take a deep breath. Then call the folks at the Family Justice Center.

The number is (661) 868-8410.

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