Angelica Zuniga reached her breaking point in 2013.
She was in an abusive relationship with her trafficker, and in the sex industry starting at age 12.
Some time later — now 29 years old — she wanted out. However, Zuniga had no idea where to get help.
Ultimately, she sought assistance from the Alliance Against Family Violence & Sexual Assault. Zuniga, also an advocate for trafficked youth, told her story Friday at a Kern County District Attorney Office’s event held at the Family Justice Center on Oak Street, organized to raise awareness of domestic violence.
“I just wanted to be ... that voice to the other victims,” Zuniga said.
Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer started the event by acknowledging domestic violence impacts women and men, regardless of their social class, race or religion. Doors opened in 2018 for the center, and advocates have helped more than 10,000 victims since then. Workers aided 700 people in July, August and September, the busiest quarter since the center opened, she added.
“While that's disturbing — that it looks like domestic violence may be on the rise — it also gives us hope that perhaps they are coming to seek services to try to end the cycle of violence,” Zimmer said.
Bakersfield Police Department officers respond to domestic violence calls every day, the DA said. BPD Police Chief Greg Terry, another speaker, encouraged community members to speak out against domestic violence incidents. Safety is ensured through education and advocacy, he added.
“We are committed to protecting this community and protecting and speaking for victims of violence,” Terry said. “But … it will take all of us to reduce domestic violence in our community.”
Many women of color feel trapped in their dangerous situation because they cannot speak English. Their abusers may taunt them by saying no one can help, or threaten deportation. The Sikh Women’s Association partnered with the Family Justice Center to establish a hotline for Punjabi-speaking women and to increase access to these communities, said Raji Brar, co-founder of the association.
“They should not have to suffer in silence, and they should not be suffering alone,” Brar said. “Because of the Family Justice Center, they are not alone.”
Sheriff Donny Youngblood added slain Deputy Phillip Campas and Deputy Richard McHale, who died in 1989, were lost after responding to domestic violence incidents. Everyone is at risk, and he encourages victims to call and receive help.
The director of the Family Justice Center, Elizabeth Ruelas, said their services are confidential, which may provide some solace for victims. She watches how many feel safe as they walk through the doors.
“They walk out understanding that it is their choice,” Ruelas said. “They have the decision in the end of how they want to proceed.”
She recalls a man requested services from the Family Justice Center after reporting his abuse 11 times to law enforcement. He felt as if no one believed him, Ruelas said.
“No matter what his gender was, he was a victim of domestic violence,” she added. “I treated him with that same respect ... that we do with any other individual.”
Zimmer said she hopes to open a new Family Justice Center in Lamont during the winter of 2022.