It didn’t draw the attention that a number of other recent Missoula City Council initiatives did, but Monday evening’s proclamation and reception honoring those who advocate for victims of relationship violence was likely one of the most appreciated – and certainly one of the most deserving.
Signed by Mayor John Engen and Missoula County’s commissioners, the proclamation called on all citizens to listen, speak up, expect respect and challenge “those who joke about, insult or try to dehumanize others.”
That vigilance, the proclamation said, is essential to “recognizing and supporting the people and programs that provide safety, healing and help for survivors of relationship violence.”
About 30 victim advocates were recognized at a reception before the council meeting and Commissioner Dave Strohmaier attended the business session to add his on-the-record thanks alongside the mayor and City Council.
“It’s something that is not said often enough, but our advocates throughout the community are a healing piece of the fabric of Missoula and Missoula County – and it’s long overdue that we formally recognize your contributions to the place that we live,” Strohmaier said. “It’s an unfortunate reality that we have crime victims and sexual assault victims and family violence victims, in general, that we have these things in our midst.
“But I am very thankful and grateful … that we have advocates working for all of us and for our neighbors and friends.”
In Missoula over the past year, the YWCA’s Pathways program tended to more than 1,300 survivors of interpersonal violence, the Crime Victim Advocate program has assisted 1,755 survivors, St. Patrick Hospital’s First Step Resource Center served almost 500 clients, and the University of Montana’s Student Advocacy Resource Center helped another 228.
“The effects of abuse and violent crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking, cross all social and economic lines and affect people of all ages and genders and erode the fabric of our community,” Monday’s proclamation read, ending with a request that community members pledge “never to commit, condone or remain silent about relationship violence.”
“Thanks again for recognizing the work of advocates and victim witness coordinators in our community,” Shantelle Gaynor told council members after the proclamation was read. Gaynor is director of Missoula City-County Relationship Services.
“It is a sad thing that we have so many folks who need this kind of help,” she said, “but it is a huge testament to our community that we have the support of our elected leaders and our citizens to be able to meet folks where they’re at to get them the resources that they need to find support and healing.”
Much of the coordination of Monday’s events came by way of a very personal story.
Ward 4 City Councilman Jesse Ramos planned the reception and helped write the proclamation because he grew up with a mom who devoted her professional life to working as a crime victim advocate in Lincoln County.
Retired now, Carol Ramos still volunteers as an advocate for her fellow Libby residents who experience relationship violence.
Councilman Ramos said his mom “was a crime victim advocate her whole life, and in my opinion was the greatest advocate in the country. And I know I’m a little bit biased, but …”
“There are a lot of sacrifices that these crime victim advocates make behind the scenes – and that their families make as well,” he said. “It’s not a 9 to 5 job. It happens 24/7, and there are always advocates there who take time away from their families and their kids to help these victims.”
Ramos said he remembers going with his mom to the emergency room when she was called on to help victims after hours or on days off.
He didn’t know, he said, that it wasn’t a “top 1 percent job. It’s certainly far more important on many levels than a top 1 percent job.”
Carol Ramos came to Missoula on Monday to attend the reception and council meeting with her son.
The councilman apologized for the recognition coming by way of a reception and a proclamation, rather than something more tangible.
“But if we as a community can recognize the incredible sacrifice that these women make for us on a daily basis, every single minute of every single day for minimal money, and reach out and lend a hand and participate in the programs, we can work together,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that these crimes take place, but if we can band together as a community and help these victims out and advocates out in their very overburdened jobs, we will ultimately be a better community for it.”