Domestic violence doesn’t always scream and shout.
It often involves subtle mental and emotional abuse that evolves over a period of years. It often goes unreported — until an explosion of violence.
Sometimes, the first known act of physical violence in a domestic violence situation is a homicide.
Selah businessman Brian Harris and his family know this all too well. Since the death of their daughter in January, Harris and wife Fran have raised about $150,000 for YWCA Yakima, which supports and shelters victims of domestic violence through a 24-hour helpline and a 44-bed shelter.
Emily Naomi Harris Escamilla, a 30-year-old mother of two, was strangled by her husband at their Selah home on Jan. 24. Daniel Escamilla, also 30, later killed himself. There was no record of reports or complaints of domestic violence involving the Escamilla family.
For this reason, the Harrises are dedicated advocates for YWCA Yakima.
“It’s a safe haven. It’s a lifesaver,” Harris said recently outside his business, Brian Harris Used Cars, before beginning his latest fundraising effort for the YWCA. “We want to save ladies’ lives.”
The YWCA opened its shelter in 1978 in response to an issue that has been plaguing the Yakima Valley for decades. Each year, the program helps several thousand people, and the need continues to grow, the YWCA website says.
“Our goal is to provide a safe and nurturing place where we can empower all victims of domestic violence and assist them as needed so they can heal and become self-reliant survivors,” the website notes.
Besides housing, the shelter assigns advocates who help victims and families recover from trauma and sort through needs such as safety, housing, legal issues, employment and budgeting. Housing at the shelter is often at capacity.
“All of us at the YWCA are grateful to the Harris family for their ongoing effort to bring attention to domestic violence and inspiring so many people to donate to us,” Cheri Kilty, YWCA Yakima’s executive director, said recently.
Give credit to the YWCA for filling a challenging and desperate need in the Yakima Valley. And give credit to Brian Harris for his determination to make something positive from the tragic death of his daughter — and to do so in a creative and quirky fashion.
The latest fundraiser, which ended July 16 and raised more than $50,000 for the YWCA, involved Harris spending three days in a large dog kennel in front of his dealership, posing for photo opportunities (for donations) and, at one point, kissing a lipstick-adorned pig. He spent nights in a sleeping bag.
During his kennel time, Harris, family members and visitors shared memories of Emily, who taught business and accounting at Perry Technical Institute.
Harris wants to do more fundraising, but the COVID-19 pandemic has several plans on hold, including a golf tournament and a concert. During his kennel fundraiser, he took joy in noting that he and his family know of at least 10 women who have escaped abusive relationships.
Prior to Escamilla’s death, there had been at least 12 homicides in Yakima County that were linked to domestic violence over the past five years, according to the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. In that same time, Yakima County Superior Court had seen 1,225 cases of domestic violence, while Yakima County District Court had seen 841 cases.
Further complicating matters is the fact that times of stress — a pandemic, for instance — tend to increase incidents of domestic violence.
The crisis is real, and the need is great — as YWCA Yakima and the Harris family can attest.