Ten years ago, Victor Gomez’s sister Elizabeth was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend. This year, on April 22, Gomez will emcee Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence in Hollister to honor the memory of his sister and to call awareness to domestic violence issues.
Gomez, a former Hollister City Council member and current public policy director in Silicon Valley, says the day of his sister’s murder is one he will never forget. “As I approached the entrance to my sister’s building that afternoon, I saw the looks people were giving me—it gave me the chills—that look of compassion and sadness, and I knew something was wrong.”
Elizabeth Gomez was 31 years old when she was repeatedly stabbed and strangled to death.
Victor and Elizabeth were born in Hollister, but their seven older siblings were born in Mexico. The Gomez family immigrated from Mexico to California in the 1970s. In 2007, Victor Gomez was the owner of Papa Murphy’s Pizza in Hollister. His older sister had recently split from her boyfriend after he was arrested in San Jose. When brought before a court for his arrest, the ex-boyfriend plead insanity and was sent to the Atascadero State Hospital. Gomez says that after some time in the hospital, his sister’s ex-boyfriend was released. “He wasn’t deemed a threat to society,” Gomez recalled.
Within days of her former boyfriend's release, Elizabeth Gomez was dead.
Victor Gomez says that this horrible event changed the course of his life. “I was propelled to get involved with my community and pushed many issues—things that are important to families—all because of this thing that happened to my sister," he said.
Gomez evetually left the food industry and ran for public office. He served on the Hollister City Council for eight years, during which he learned about the Emmaus House, the only domestic violence shelter in San Benito County. The nonprofit organization provides assistance and shelter to women and children who are victims of domestic violence.
When the Walk a Mile In Her Shoes event came to Hollister a few years ago as a fundraising opportunity for Emmaus House, Gomez jumped at the chance to raise money and spread awareness about the tragedy that took his sister’s life and the countless other victims who go unnamed. “Lots of people in our community here in Hollister are dealing with this, and we don’t see or hear about it. But it’s there and it’s happening,” says Gomez.
This year, Gomez is not only fundraising for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, he’s also the emcee. All participants are encouraged to walk in high heels, including the men. Appropriate shoes are provided for all the men who don’t have access to their own heels. The walk is seen as an opportunity for men and women to raise awareness and take a stand against sexualized violence in their communities.
After his sister’s death, Gomez said he realized that spreading awareness was the most important thing he could do, which is why he is such a vocal supporter of events such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. “We need to make sure people are talking about this issue," he said. "That’s important because you don’t want it to get to what my family and I had to go through. Let’s stop it, before it becomes too late.”
Gomez said he hopes that awareness can eventually lead to prevention.
“Not until after my sister had passed away and I spoke to her friends did I realize that this wasn’t the first time that man had hurt my sister,” he said, stressing the importance of people being honest with themselves and their relationships with others. “Ask yourself,” says Gomez, “do you have the sort of relationships where friends can come to you and tell you about these things?”
Nonprofits such as the Emmaus House make it easier for victims who don’t have friends or family to confide in. Victims can use Emmaus House as an outlet for confidential conversations and support. “No one deserves [this abuse],” says Gomez. “Everyone is more valuable than that.”
As a public policy director, Gomez is also very aware of the issues that his sister’s murder highlights. “Why don’t we have a public list of domestic violence offenders?” he asks. His sister’s murderer was arrested at the scene, but pled insanity and eventually ended up back in a state hospital. “That’s the scariest part,” says Gomez. “He goes up before the board every five years, and every five years they could determine he is ready to be released.”
Gomez stresses that events like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes provide a powerful opportunity for everyone to lead by example. And it’s not only important for men and women to take action — words count as well. “When it comes to man-to-man conversations and other ‘locker room talk,’ you can’t allow those conversations to seem normal or acceptable. You always want to be the dead-end of the conversation in those moments,” he said.
Donations to help the Emmaus House will be accepted until the day of the event. Volunteers, sponsors and walkers are always welcome. Additionally, raffle tickets will be sold at the event for $2 each, or six tickets for $10.
Check-in for the walk starts at 10 a.m. on April 22 at the corner of Fourth and San Benito Streets in Hollister.