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Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I have never been a victim of domestic violence, but I am a survivor of it.

Irene on the left stands with her sister Janie, who was killed at the age of 30.

Photo: Irene M. Diaz (left) stands with her sister Janie one year before Janie was murdered.


Access to a gun makes it five times more likely that a woman will die at the hands of a domestic abuser.

Campbell, J. C., and et al. (2003). “Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study”. American Journal of Public Health.  (2003).

Did you know that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed? I personally know that that statistic is real. I have been an advocate for the prevention of dating violence and domestic violence for over 20 years. I started my advocacy work because I was born into a family where there was domestic violence. The horrible cycle of domestic violence became a part of my family’s life. In addition to my mother, most of my six sisters have experienced domestic violence and escaped it—except for one.

We were migrant farmworkers, so my family traveled throughout the United States following the crop circle. My sister Janie was ten years old when she met her future husband; he was three years older than her. We knew his family because they were migrant farmworkers like my family was. At the time, everyone thought it was so cute that she had a boyfriend, but by the time she was 14 years old, she got pregnant and our parents made them get married. The day after they were married, she came home with a black eye; she told me it was from walking into a door. Within a month, she had lost the pregnancy and quickly became pregnant again.

After 15 years of marriage, my sister decided to separate from her husband and had an order of protection placed against him. He asked her if he could go take their son his birthday present. She allowed him to do that. He did not have a present when he got there, instead he had a gun. Moments before he murdered my sister, he told their son to go back into the house and he kissed him on the forehead and told him, “I love you, mi hijo (my son).” He then pulled out his gun and chased Janie around his car. He caught her and shot her in the heart. She died there on the sidewalk, under a street light. She died in fear. She was only 30 years old.

In the time they were married, there were many instances of domestic violence. I learned about the most serious incidents sitting in the courtroom when my mother was testifying. There had been at least two previous incidents that included the use of guns. Listening to my mother testify at the trial of the man who murdered her daughter was heart-wrenching. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for 2nd-degree murder and aggravated assault.

Although I have never been a victim of domestic violence, I am a survivor of it. It leaves a lifelong traumatic impact. Watching my mother and sisters be victims of domestic violence has had a devastating affect on my life. For more than half of my life, I have been fighting against it in my community. I became involved in gun violence prevention because it is often intertwined with dating and domestic violence. Moms Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network gave me the voice I needed to fight against domestic violence, locally, statewide, and nationally. 

I have met gun violence survivors from all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds. The indescribable emotional pain we feel is lessened, if even for a few moments, when we are together.

Speaking up can be therapeutic. I have met gun violence survivors from all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds. The indescribable emotional pain we feel is lessened, if even for a few moments, when we are together. We understand each other’s pain and grief, and desire to reach out to others to do whatever we can to stop gun violence. Losing someone to violence, especially gun violence, is beyond comprehension. It is too much for our brain and heart to fathom. The Everytown Survivor Network brings us together to form a powerful coalition of individuals who will make a difference in the U.S. 

When I tell my family’s story at conferences, schools, or churches, I always have people come up to me afterward to share their families’ stories. Often, it is the first time they are talking about it. It’s emotional, but they now know there is something they can do to prevent it or stop it. Gun violence prevention will save the lives of men, women, and children who are victims of domestic violence. 

National Domestic Violence Hotline

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233), or text START to 88788 from anywhere in the U.S.

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