[Ed. Note: Readers, please welcome to HayLadies! our newest contributor SGB. SGB immigrated to Houston, Texas when she was eight years old. Since then, she’s realized she’s a Texan at heart. She found her inner feminist at Texas A&M University and now is a local domestic violence attorney. When she’s not kicking ass and taking names in the courtroom, she also serves on the board of the Lilith Fund. She loves good food, good friends and good drinks—best when combined.]
I have been a domestic violence attorney for the past 4 years. Before that I worked at a couple of Texas domestic violence shelters. I have made my life’s work out of ensuring that survivors and their children are safe.
This past legislative session, a plethora of legislation was introduced that will directly impact domestic violence victims and survivors. A simple search on Texas Legislature Online shows all the bills under domestic violence or protective orders.
A recent bill passed includes pets as protected individuals in protective orders. Basically, this bill allows courts granting protective orders to state that the abuser can’t remove the pet from the victim, or harm/threaten or interfere with the pet.
On its face, this bill is truly well intentioned. Texas joins about a dozen other states who have similar laws on the books.
Many survivors seek help from the legal system to make sure that they aren’t threatened, harassed, or physically abused by their partner. Protective Orders are normally two year orders with civil and criminal consequences for violations. Protective Orders are often requested when the survivor tells her partner, “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you,” and the partner continues to threaten, harass, stalk, and intimidate the survivor into reconciling.
The Protective Order often helps victims move on with their lives, less afraid that their abuser will show up at the domestic violence shelter, the new apartment, the job, or the children’s school unannounced. And if the abuser does, it allows the victim to call the police and merely reporting his presence is an arrestable offense. Keep in mind, Protective Orders are not easy to get, and not best for every domestic violence victim.
Protective Orders require meeting with an attorney, drafting and signing a sworn statement documenting the abuse, and telling their story to the judge/abuser. Often times, this is a lot to as a survivor to do, and many survivors are simply too scared to go through with a getting Protective Order. Also, some Protective Orders are not granted. The attorney has to prove that domestic violence occurred and that it is likely to occur in the future if the Protective Order is not granted. Often times, it is easy to prove that the violence happened, but it’s harder to prove that it will happen in the future. Good attorneys make sure to tell their clients all possible outcomes.
Many victims leave the relationship with their children and the clothes on their back. Very few leave with their personal belongings like furniture, photos, their kids’ toys, or their pets. Logistically, it’s very difficult for survivors to leave with those belongings. Many victims have no where to go, but to shelter, because their family and friends may not help them anymore.
Often times, survivors of domestic violence experience a range of verbal and emotional abuse. Over time, that often escalates to destruction of physical property, and then physical violence. Acts such as punching walls, throwing things like vases, books, phones, dishes and cutting up or destroying her clothes, documents, or photos send a message to the victim, if you cross me, this is what will happen to you.
I have had survivors come to my office and tell me their experiences of their abusers abusing their pets, or treating their pets poorly. However, in the 300 cases I have handled, it has only happened 3-5 times.
I don’t doubt that Representative Davis was well intentioned in carrying this bill and supporting the survivors of domestic violence. Even though other states have passed similar laws, it doesn’t mean that it drastically helping thousands, or hundreds of survivors each year. There are many other changes to the laws governing Protective Orders that would better serve victims.
Same-sex couples often have a hard time getting Protective Orders. It’s challenging to prove that the parties were in a relationship, and inherently it outs both parties. The survivor has to file a sworn statement with the court saying that they were in a relationship with someone of the same-sex. And that statement is public record, meaning that anyone can go to the courthouse and look it up. Imagine if you were sitting in to court waiting to go forward for a Protective Order with your attorney, and your partner subpoenaed your boss, your family and your neighbors to testify against you—for the sole purpose of letting having them listen to the whole hearing and learn that you’re gay.
Also, there are no current protections that would prevent an abuser from revoking immigrant status for immigrant survivors. Many survivors stay in violent relationships because they are concerned about their dependent immigrant status. Often times, abusers threaten that they will call immigration, tell the police, won’t be believed because they are undocumented. Many survivors who are immigrants are surprised to learn that the courts and criminal justice system take domestic violence seriously regardless of immigration status. However, many leave their abusers, get Protective Orders, and then their spousal immigrant status and work permits are revoked by the abuser.
Based on what I have seen on the ground, well-meaning legislators would be better off meeting actual victims of domestic violence. Hearing their stories, struggles and how the system failed them will help build better change that affects many more than just a handful of survivors. A lot of work goes into drafting a bill, passing a bill and ensuring that it’s signed by the Governor, why not make changes that count? And if those serious changes are unattainable, isn’t even it worth it to try?