In 2015, there were 192,872 incidents of family violence in Texas, and 158 women were killed. There were 183,294 domestic violence hotline calls. While 24,391 adults and children were safely sheltered, the statistics tell us 15,869 requests for shelter were unmet.[i] In some cases, victims of domestic violence can make and carry out a plan to get away from their abuser, but in far too many others, there is no time to prepare until it is too late. With increased education and awareness of domestic violence, people have a better chance of identifying abusive behaviors and the signs that problems are escalating. In any emergency situation, the best bet is to have a plan and hope you never need it.
Texas law recognizes and protects men, women and children.
Men, women and children, at all ages, and from all walks of life, can be family violence victims. Texas law defines family violence as well as dating violence, and it is important to recognize that you do not need to be married to be protected by Texas law.
Family violence is defined in the Texas Family Code as:
“(1) An act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself;
(2) abuse, as that term is defined by Sections 261.001(1)(C), (E), (G), (H), (I), (J), and (K), by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household; or
(3) dating violence, as that term is defined by Section 71.0021.[ii]”
When an individual reports family violence to a law enforcement officer, either during an incident when they dial 911, or soon after, the Texas Criminal Code requires that officers investigate all disturbance reports. In the process, the officer must notify a victim about their rights as victims of family violence. These rights include the request for a protective order from the court, and the right to ask a local prosecutor to file a criminal complaint against the abuser.[iii]
When the reports and records are filed with the court, a judge can make a finding that family violence is or is likely to occur, and issue a protective order that legally prohibits the accused person from engaging in certain acts and may restrict the distance and contact among the accused and potential violence victims. If the accused violates the protective order, they may be immediately arrested and taken to jail. A protective order, while something of leverage, is not a bullet proof vest, and victims should be on heightened alert and maintain a plan in the event of an emergency.
Spotting the signs that point to a family violence threat is important to making safe choices.
Abusers focus on their ability to control their victims. An abuser may act hostile or threatening during verbal fights. They may apologize profusely and have many reasons for their inappropriate anger. So long as they can contain the situation and keep it private, the abuser maintains control. If, however, an upset spouse or significant other seeks attention from other people, especially family members, the abuser may become more angered. An abusive person might move a family great distances from the ones to whom they may run, in the event of an emergency. Abusers may also monitor others’ use of cell phones and other communication technologies to keep an eye on or limit communication outside the abuser’s control. When people are isolated from friends and family they can feel trapped and powerless.
When do people snap? When are we once bitten, twice shy? These are difficult questions for anyone to answer. A better question is whether we feel absolutely safe or wonder if someone is going to lose it and what may happen. In cases involving serious injury and death, the victims did not always see an attack coming, until it was too late.
Where do people go when they leave, and what do they do if they have no money?
Since many abusers actively limit their victims access to personal and financial support, it can be difficult to leave. Some victims find a way to save an emergency fund of money, possibly in cash or untraceable pre-paid debit cards. Some victims with no family or friends with whom to take shelter, may use the computer at the local library to look for safe places to go. While some victims fear their abuser might look for them at local shelters, some find underground or privately networked safe homes.
It may be an interesting conversation among friends and family to talk about what they might do to escape a violent relationship and where they would go. Everything down to avoiding social media may be part of a plan of action. Even people in the best relationships are wise to realize that someday they might have to escape an abuser or help a victim escape theirs. Knowing where to turn and who to call can include the name and number of a family law attorney who can help victims take action and safety measures. Including that attorney in a “what if” conversation may not be a bad idea.
Remember, if you sense or see something, discretely inquire or say something. You might fear that saying something may offend your friend or family member, but in the event you are correct, speaking up and just letting another know you are there whenever they may need you can save a life.
The Barrows Firm shares important information and resources about family law. If you need assistance with a matter involving family violence, The Barrows Firm can help answer your questions.
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[i] Texas Council on Family Violence, 2015 Family Violence by the Numbers.
[ii] Texas Family Code, Section 71.004, Family Violence.
[iii] Texas Criminal Code, Chapter 5, Family Violence Prevention.