Conference for Advocates of Abuse Survivors Opens in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — The 17th annual conference for advocates of sexual assault and domestic violence survivors got off to a strong start with high-profile speakers and sessions on topics ranging from family law to training for people who hope to become expert witnesses in civil and criminal cases.

Attorney Maricarmen Garza on the opening day of the 2017 Legal Alliance for Survivors of Abuse Cross-Training conference.

The first welcome speech at the Legal Alliance for Survivors of Abuse Cross-Training conference was given by TRLA attorney Maricarmen Garza, who organized the event held at the Omni Hotel Colonnade in San Antonio.

She also introduced the opening speaker, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, a longtime politician, state leader and advocate of survivors of abuse.

“She is a source of inspiration for me,” Ms. Garza said. “You’re here today because of legislation that she passed.” When Ms. Cohen was a Texas State Representative, she fought to pass the so-called “pole tax,” which generates funds for programs for survivors by charging a $5 per patron fee at adult entertainment venues.

Ms. Cohen thanked the crowd of some 200 people gathered in the Omni Hotel ballroom, where many of the June 14-16 sessions are being held.  Describing the work of the conference participants gathered before her, Ms. Cohen said, “I know at times it’s spiritually, emotionally, and physically exhausting. But when the rewards come, when you know that you’ve made a difference and altered the lives of women and helped to see to it that perpetrators are punished, then at least that night — that night — you can  rest easy. As Edmund Burke, the philosopher,  said, ‘the only thing necessary for evil to exist is for good people to do nothing.’ You’re the good people, and you’re going to take care of making sure that evil stops.”

In a brief speech, Ms. Cohen also talked about her own work for survivors — the long slog to pass the $5 per patron fee at what she called “SOBs,” or sexually-oriented businesses, and her successful efforts to get resources for testing the thousands of rape kits that have sat untouched in police offices.

Participants relax between breakout sessions at the 2017 conference.

Following her speech, the participants — staff members at rape and domestic violence crisis centers from around the state — took part in the first of many sessions scheduled over the two-day conference. TRLA attorneys Alison Lisi and Christine Dutko discussed best practices for safely navigating immigration with clients. They encouraged clients to gather important documents, prepare emergency contact lists, identify caregivers, and create financial plans.

The conference is  packed with substantive sessions, often on difficult, emotionally-charged topics. Still, the event also offers a rare chance to gather for people who work with survivors from all over the state. Accordingly, there was “time out” on the first day of the conference for relaxing over food and frothy cocktails at an evening “mixer.”