Elizabeth Muñoz
Elizabeth Muñoz. Courtesy Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice

When my son Junior was killed driving home from a funeral in October 2015, I felt I’d lost everything. At age 18, a senseless act of violence robbed my son of his bright future. I honestly didn’t see a reason to keep living.

But I kept going. I leaned on my husband, Juan Carlos, along with my brother and sister who helped me through that unimaginably difficult time. They reached out to local and state victims’ services programs to access support we desperately needed to survive.

No parent saves for the expense of their child being taken from them. Without the victims’ funds, we wouldn’t have been able to pay for the funeral or cremation. Or for so many other unexpected expenses that arose in the immediate aftermath of Junior’s death.

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We need the state of California to support thousands of other families like ours who require time to process their grief and apply for victims’ support and services. Senate Bill 375, introduced by state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, would extend the time period to apply for support from the victims’ compensation fund from three years to seven years. This would help survivors access funds for counseling, medical bills, and other expenses resulting from the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Beyond the financial expenses, my husband and I also didn’t know about mental health or well being services or who we could talk to about our pain and grief.

My husband found Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a national network of crime survivors joining together to create healing communities and shape public policy.

CSSJ introduced us to a community of survivors who understood what we were going through and could point us to resources we needed. We visited trauma recovery centers and met survivors working to build safer communities and re-imagine what a truly just justice system could look like.

In early 2018, after my husband and I returned from CSSJ’s annual Survivors Speak meeting in Sacramento, we knew we needed to start a chapter in San Diego, to create a local community for families and loved ones to heal themselves as well as advocate for community healing. We just launched that local San Diego chapter a few weeks ago.

We realized we needed to establish a physical space, too. Last year, we opened the doors to Jr.’s Guidance Center to welcome people in San Diego affected by violence to come together and heal. The center offers victims’ support services including therapy to allow people to face their trauma, walking families through applying for victims’ compensation, and responding to other needs as they arise.

Losing our son showed us we can’t do this work alone—we can’t heal ourselves alone and we can’t help others without support. Now that I’ve met hundreds of fellow survivors, I know not everyone can access the support system I had after my son’s death.

That’s why we’ve been advocating for the passage of SB 375 to extend the time period families have to access victim’s services. The current three-year deadline is unrealistic, given the magnitude of what families face.

Each survivor is different—some may be unable to return to work right away, and bills pile up. Or, the grief may exacerbate existing health problems, leading to unexpected medical expenses. Whatever the case, surviving and healing take time, more than the state currently accounts for.

SB 375 passed with bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature earlier this month, and awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

It is part of a broader conversation survivors are leading across California and the nation. We are coming together to advocate for expanded victims’ services, trauma recovery centers, and focusing lawmakers’ attention on violence prevention and community healing, rather than simply putting more people behind bars.

Since that horrific day in 2015, I have been working to honor Junior’s legacy. My son showed me the strength in being vulnerable, in reaching out, in building community. We need the state’s support to ensure all families can access the resources they need to get through this trauma and heal.

Elizabeth Muñoz leads the San Diego chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice with her husband Juan Carlos Muñoz Sr. Together, they run Jr.’s Guidance Center at 1360 Rosecrans St.