New! SPEAK UP About Domestic Violence

In the aftermath of the murder of a young woman in broad daylight outside her home in San Carlos last September, CORA and the City of San Carlos launched SPEAK UP to save lives. The campaign educates community members through outreach to local businesses so that anyone experiencing intimate partner abuse is offered a safe path to seek help.  From nail and beauty salons, to dental offices and fitness gyms, our businesses have contact with community members who may be at risk.  This brief training gives employees in these businesses (large and small) quick tools to spot intimate partner abuse and to offer resources.  San Carlos has supported the development and piloting of SPEAK UP.  Now we want to bring the program to your city.  

If you are a city official and want to learn more, reach out! We’ll share how we would work together to launch SPEAK UP in your city. Citizens who want see more done to stop domestic violence in your community, reach out to your city’s representatives! Tell them why you think it’s critically important that your city addresses domestic violence today and share this webpage with them.


Further questions:

Karen Ferguson, CEO 
Lynn Schutte, Director

CORA Statement on Domestic Violence Homicide & Safety Planning

How Bay Area Community Can Support Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

CORA is heartbroken by the murder of Karina Castro, a mother of two and member of our community. We send our deepest condolences to Ms. Castro’s family, and are supporting her family and community during this unimaginable time.

This event is a reminder that San Mateo County and the broader Bay Area community can work together to support survivors who need to escape abuse and want help. One thing CORA encourages is learning about safety planning for loved ones who may be in an abusive relationship and creating a safety plan if you are a survivor yourself.

A safety plan focuses on strategies to escape an abusive situation safely. For every survivor it will be different, but some key components might include times that are safest to escape, locations the survivor can go to that are unknown to the abuser, code words between the survivor and a trusted friend, a hidden go bag, and a secondary phone to avoid location tracking. In 2021, 96% of CORA’s clients completed a safety plan.

Anyone who faces abuse in their relationships can reach out to CORA, anytime, any day.  We want everyone to have information to safety plan and access to services they need as swiftly as possible.

The San Bernardino Shooting, Law Enforcement and Partnerships that Matter

Like you, when I read the words “San Bernardino Shooting,” my heart sunk, initially thinking about the tragic incident that took 14 lives there in 2015, but this time it hit deeper. This time, the event was domestic violence related and as an advocate I can feel my body tightening up and a sense of frustration coming over me.

Not another life, not another incident, not another community.

Working with law enforcement in the Emergency Response Program, I can relate to the frustration officer’s feel when they get a repeat call to the same house. There’s the insistent question of why this abuse perpetuates and how much you wish it didn’t.

Why IS the cycle of abuse so relentless? Why aren’t we able to PREVENT events like this from happening? What CAN we do differently?

I draw a blank when trying to respond to these questions myself.

Looking at the recent shooting of educator Karen Elaine Smith, what stands out the most is the part about her family saying that she heard his threats and didn’t take him seriously. Words do matter and threats are worth heeding. When these situations come up in the news people wonder where the police were and why they didn’t respond sooner, but don’t ask why they weren’t called sooner or why intervention wasn’t made before things escalated.

Working with law enforcement, I hear first-hand accounts about how challenging responding to domestic violence calls are. Intervention is complicated, both what officers can actually do and what survivors are willing to disclose is limited. Being trauma-informed, I’ve learned that there are many layers to domestic violence and there are many reasons why a survivor may be reluctant to give information to police. It supports the need for partnerships like the one CORA has with law enforcement to exist all the more. At the same time, I have learned to appreciate the roles that each of our community partners play in fighting domestic violence.

From law enforcement, to government officials, to legal services, and to domestic violence advocates and agencies, preventing incidents like the recent San Bernardino tragedy requires intentionality and the intersection of community partners to support. Each role provides a valuable service that no other part can provide and when done to support the client, there is the greatest potential for a good outcome. Preventing domestic violence can seem like a daunting task, but as a team effort, we have the best luck at making a difference. I’m grateful for the work of our community partners and I’m glad that when it comes to domestic violence in San Mateo County in the words of Twisted Sister, “We’re not gonna take it anymore.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Fleming earned her BA in Sociology with a minor in Political Science from Cal State East Bay. She also holds a license in Cosmetology. After listening to her clients talk about obstacles their lives, Emily put down her shears to pursue a career empowering people to overcome them. In pursuit of her passion, she has interned under Congresswoman Lois Capps in Washington D.C learning about public policy, traveled as a guest speaker teaching teens about Dating Violence Prevention and has worked with survivors of abuse both as a Sexual Assault Counselor and an Orphanage Volunteer in Argentina. In her free time she can be found running, traveling or taking over a dance floor.

A Word from the Executive Director

If you’ve been watching the local news, you may be aware that a young woman was killed this week. The prime suspect, Anthony Kirincic, was her boyfriend. Our hearts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of the victim. There are no words that can do justice to such a tragedy.

At CORA, our mission is to provide safety, support and healing for survivors of domestic violence. Domestic violence cuts across all racial, cultural, class and gender lines. It comes in many forms – emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual, verbal and, of course, physical. Violence usually escalates. And the most extreme form of physical violence in an intimate partnership, death, does occur. In fact, three to five women are killed every day in the United States by their partner or ex-partner.

The sad truth is that if someone is determined to kill, they will kill. Protective orders can be and are violated and even if a survivor obtains support – legal, counseling or otherwise – it doesn’t mean they will leave the relationship. The barriers to leaving an intimate relationship, abusive or not, can be numerous and profound. However, studies show that protective orders do help deter batterers from re-assaulting their partners and supportive services do help survivors achieve a level of social and emotional well-being that can help them lead lives free from violence.

Our trained counselors stand ready to help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So whether you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, or for whatever reason you would like to speak to us, I encourage you to call. Our hotline is free and fully confidential.

Onward, until the violence stops,

Melissa Lukin
Executive Director

The Tragedy of Domestic Violence Strikes Our Community

Over the holiday weekend our community was rocked by the news of a domestic violence-related homicide. The story unfolded with all the drama of a Hollywood movie: a vicious stabbing, a suspect still at large, SWAT teams and manhunts. We watched the images flash across our televisions and the headlines scroll across the screens of our phones. And underneath all this, the same phrase continued to bubble to the surface… domestic violence.

It’s important that we not gloss over this fact. It is the lens through which we see these horrific events. We hear the San Mateo Police Department report that they had visited the house on several occasions on domestic violence calls. We look at the address, know the street and the neighborhood, and our minds are filled with questions.

At CORA, we’re accustomed to these questions. We give comprehensive help to those experiencing domestic violence in San Mateo County, so we hear some version of them on a daily basis. Largely because domestic abuse has, historically, existed in the shadows – a private, family matter – there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about this complex and widespread human rights issue. Ideas of how individuals “should” act and beliefs on how we would act if we were in the same situation fall apart in light of the complicated human psychology, the trauma and the social pressures that truly drive these situations.

Here are a few of the questions you may have had:

How could this happen here, to such a wonderful person?
Colleen Straw was a graphic designer for American Greetings Corp., a company that makes greeting cards and party goods. She was a graduate of San Francisco State University. Her mother said she loved collecting vintage 50’s and 60’s items. She was described as having a sparkling smile, being a loyal friend and always seeing the best in people. She had a Chihuahua named Rocky. How could this happen to someone like her, here in our quiet community?

By most people’s thinking, Colleen was not the kind of person to experience domestic violence. There is a common perception that domestic violence happens in only certain communities, among certain economic or ethnic groups. However, the numbers show that domestic violence takes place in all communities. It has no regard for race, religion, sexual orientation or level of income. The latest numbers show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience intimate partner abuse at some point in their life. Truly staggering numbers and figures that make it the most wide spread human rights issue in our country.

Almost certainly, abuse has touched someone we know. From the nicest neighborhood to the most overlooked rural community, domestic violence exists among us all, lurking in the shadows.

Why was she in this relationship and keeping contact with an abusive person?
It might be easy to ask why someone would choose to have a relationship with someone who would hurt you. However, a better question is why would an individual use physical or mental violence against someone else? In many domestic violence situations, individuals focus on the victim’s actions – â€œvictim blaming” – and fail to focus on the heinous, terrible choice of the abuser.

If you’re looking for an answer to the question “Why did she stay?” we recommend taking a look at this article from the Huffington Post that examines just a few of the complex reasons.

What happened this time to make it escalate to this level?
Domestic violence is a cycle; a dynamic of power and control. Past examinations show that these processes of control tend to escalate, become more frequent and blatant, more damaging and more likely to be lethal over time. Many individuals experiencing abuse use various means to attempt to stop this escalating process, which, sadly, often leads to stronger reactions from the abuser who feels these actions remove their power and control.

The events leading up to this homicide may not have been “worse” or “special” compared to others. No one thing caused the escalation. The cycle of domestic violence itself leads to the escalation.

What can I do to help stop this?
Here are a few things you can do to help diminish, and hopefully eventually end, domestic violence in your community.

Talk Openly. One thing we can all do is talk about it. It might be initially a little bit of a “downer” to discuss domestic violence with your friends and family, but by simply opening up about the subject we bring it out of the shadows. This seemingly tiny act decreases social stigma and makes it more likely that someone experiencing domestic violence will reach out for help.

Don’t Judge or Push. It’s normal to think that you know best how to help someone you know who’s experiencing abuse, but the most important thing you can do is let the individual make choices about their own life. We should empower those in domestic violence situations and listen to them about what is best in their current situation. Their actions, at times, might not be what we think is best – for instance, they may decide to stay in the abusive relationship – but support will have a greater impact than force.

Let Your Elected Officials Know. Let your elected officials on all levels know that domestic violence is an important issue for your community. They can influence legislation and funding that can greatly alter the course of DV.

Volunteer. Whether it’s with CORA or another agency, offering your time and skills to an agency that helps those experiencing domestic violence is a great way to change the course of this epidemic.

Give Some Money. Donating is a quick and easy way to have a massive impact on domestic violence in your community.

The events of this weekend will continue to affect our community. Here at CORA, our thoughts and hearts are with Colleen’s family in this challenging time. We continue to work and hope for a day when domestic violence is a thing of the past and events like this weekend’s are impossible to even imagine.