Texas laws making a difference in the lives of those affected by domestic violence
The following article is part two of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and we hope to educate our community on this very important issue. 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 2,111 victims of abuse (face-to-face) primarily from Hays and Caldwell Counties. 1,022 of those were victims of domestic violence.
On May 27, 2019, the 86th Texas Legislative Session came to a close. In the five months the legislature convened, 7,324 bills were filed, and when the dust settled 140 days later, 1,429 bills had passed all legislative hurdles to land on Governor Greg Abbott’s desk. Among those bills, were some major victories for survivors of family violence and sexual assault and agencies, like HCWC, who advocate for those survivors.
A couple of key enhancements to law enforcement training protocols will help when peace officers respond to domestic violence calls. According to the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV), 68% of survivors of family violence will experience near-fatal strangulation by their partner. Those survivors have a 750% increased chance of being murdered by their abuser.
SB 971, authored by Senator Huffman (R-Houston), amended the Texas Occupation Code to require specific training on the physical and verbal indicators of strangulation in an effort to increase early detection and intervention in these high-risk abusive situations.
Similarly, SB 586, authored by Senators Watson (D-Houston), Alvarado (D-Houston), and Lucio (D-Brownsville), requires the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) to ensure that existing trainings on child abuse, family violence, and sexual assault include the use of best practices and trauma-informed techniques when responding to these cases. This enhanced training not only benefits survivors, but also ensures consistent training for law enforcement across the state that will hopefully reduce the risk to officers who respond to these highly volatile and dangerous calls.
SB 234, authored by Senator Nelson (R-Flower Mound), gives survivors more flexibility regarding their right to vacate a dangerous location and avoid residential lease liability when family violence has occurred. Agencies like HCWC, who serve survivors of family violence can now certify that family violence has occurred to assist with lease termination. Prior to passage of this law, a survivor had to obtain a temporary ex parte order, court injunction, or a permanent protective order before they could terminate a lease. SB 325, authored by Senators Huffman (R-Houston) and Creighton (R-Conroe), creates a state-wide registry of protective orders, allowing courts, law enforcement, and the public to access information about existing protective orders. This new law provides an additional layer of safety for survivors of domestic violence throughout Texas.
One piece of legislation that several HCWC staff followed very closely was HB 1769, authored by Representatives Bonnen (R-Galveston), Rose (D-Dallas), Miller (R-Sugarland), Johnson (D-Houston), and Meyer (R-Dallas). In March 2019, Alison Steele, the mother of 19-year-old murder victim Cayley Mandadi, contacted HCWC in an effort to garner our support for a new adult alert system that would bridge the gap between the existing Amber Alert, for children under the age of 18, and the Silver Alert, for older adults with documented medical conditions. Mandadi was a sophomore at Trinity University in San Antonio when she was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend in October 2017 and left in Luling and was transported to Seton Kyle where she later died. At the time, friends reported that it appeared that Mandadi had been taken by her abusive boyfriend against her will. One of those friends even contacted police; however, because Cayley was 19, an Amber Alert could not be issued. Now, thanks to Alison Steele’s advocacy efforts, a new statewide alert exists for adults ages 18 to 64 who are suspected of being held against their will or are in immediate danger but have been missing for less than 72 hours, and their whereabouts are unknown. The name of the new law, the CLEAR Alert, or Coordinated Law Enforcement Adult Rescue Alert, also honors recent victims of violence: Cayley Mandadi; D’Lisa Kelley; Erin Castro; Ashanti Billie; and the Rest. Following the bill’s passage into law, Steel stated, “Every Texas adult is now a little bit stronger by virtue of the incremental protection that this new law provides.” The CLEAR Alert offers new protection to victims of domestic violence, and it will save lives.
Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center (HCWC) offers free confidential services to victims of family violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and child abuse who live, work or go to school in the Hays County and Caldwell County area. Another way you can be proactive in taking a stand against domestic violence is to consider getting involved in YOUR community. Attend or become a sponsor to help support HCWC’s biggest fundraiser, our Annual Live and Silent Auction which will be held on Saturday, May 2, 2020 at Embassy Suites. For more information, please call HCWC at (512) 396-4357 or visit www.hcwc.org.