While the social definition of domestic violence varies, the Texas family code defines domestic violence as an assault against a family member or household member intended to cause physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault (Tex. Fam. Code. § 4A. 71. 004).
This definition also extends to include any action or threat that reasonably places a family member in fear of imminent physical harm, emotional harm, or sexual assault. However, Texas laws clarify that domestic violence does not include reasonable child discipline or defensive actions to protect oneself from attack from a household member or intimate partner.
Extent of Domestic Violence In Texas
Texas Department of Public Safety reported nearly 200,000 incidences of domestic violence in 2018, but the experts believe many domestic violence cases go unreported. There was a 0.9% year-on-year increase since 2017, according to the latest report. Simple assault, aggravated assault, and intimidation made up the bulk of the reported cases at 96%. Victims are most likely to be female family members (25%), wives (13%), and male family members (9%). Most abusers are male (73%).
What Counts As Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence takes on many social forms, each with its distinct attributes and subsets. Broadly, domestic violence in Texas include:
- Dating violence: Dating violence is any controlling, abusive, or aggressive behavior in a romantic relationship, regardless of the sexual orientation of the persons involved. It can happen in straight or gay relationships and include verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or a combination.
- Partner violence: Abuse by one partner to gain or maintain physical, mental, financial, or sexual control over another current or former intimate partner. Generally, abusers in partner violence tend to hurt, intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, blame, and gaslight their victims.
- Physical abuse: These include non-accidental actions to inflict pain with a physical object or body part, directly or indirectly. Most abusers who inflict physical abuse also tend to deny the victim access to medical care to prevent police investigation and criminal prosecution.
- Elder abuse: Refers to intentional or negligent acts by any person in a household, or a caregiver, to cause harm or expose a vulnerable adult to dangerous risk. Elder abuse may include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, as well as neglect, exploitation, and abandonment of a vulnerable elder.
- Financial/Economic Abuse: Although non-physical, this form of domestic violence involves actions or attempts to make an individual financially dependent on the abuser. The abuser takes total control over the victim’s financial resources and access to financial resources. Abusers also tend to sabotage the victim’s ability to earn money.
- Sexual assault/abuse: This form of domestic violence includes forcing or attempting to force any sexual activity on an intimate partner without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, marital rape and forcing sexual acts on the victim after physical or emotional abuse.
Other forms of domestic violence include:
- Emotional abuse
- Substance Abuse
What is Texas Doing Against Domestic Violence?
Criminal Prosecution of Abusers
Per Texas penal code, domestic violence is a criminal offense punishable by jail time and fines upon conviction. The charges against the abuser vary from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on aggravating circumstances. The punishment ranges from twelve months in jail to ninety (99) years in prison if convicted of a felony. A convicted abuser also faces up to $10,000 in fines.
Civil Suit for Money Damages
Victims of domestic violence may also file a civil suit against abusers besides criminal prosecution, which the state takes up. Upon conviction in a civil court, the judge shall award compensatory damages against the abuser and enforce payment through legal means. However, note that the results and punishment imposed in a criminal prosecution for domestic violence are independent of the penalties imposed in a civil suit. Furthermore, the court may acquit the abuser of the criminal charges but grant compensatory damages to the victim.
Government Programs and Intervention Programs for Domestic Violence Victims
Legislative acts, and civil and criminal justice remedies, are insufficient to restore the long-term effects of domestic violence. Because of this, Texas initiated the Family Violence Program to marshal a network of service providers to help and support domestic violence victims. Coordinated by the Department of Health and Human Services, the family violence program provides emergency shelter and supportive services to victims and their children.
Attempts also go beyond helping victims of domestic violence. Service providers educate the public to recognize and report domestic violence cases for early intervention. Various organizations also train first responders and law enforcement to respond to calls for help and defuse domestic violence cases.
The judiciary also runs programs such as the Guardianship Abuse, Fraud and Exploitation Deterrence Program (GAFEDP) and the Domestic Violence Resource Program. These programs are, however, focused on providing justice and legal help to victims of domestic violence.
Filing a Domestic Violence Case In Texas
If you are a victim of domestic violence in Texas, please consider calling your local family crisis center or the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 800-799-SAFE (7233). You may also send an email to the Family Violence Program at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer to find help in person, use this interactive map to find a family violence program center near you. Please turn on your device location to use this service.
Information you share is confidential, and the Texas Department of Health and Human Service shall take measures to keep you safe. At the same time, the agency shall notify law enforcement for investigation and criminal prosecution of the abuser. Non-government organizations such as Texas Family Crisis Center also aid victims in this regard.
Meanwhile, you can also visit your local court or district attorney’s office to request a protective order. Texas judiciary explains the process of getting a protective order as well as the ramifications of one. Generally, a protective order is a court order instructing a person to cease all contacts with you pending a court hearing to determine otherwise.
Most domestic violence victims get a temporary ex parte protective order, which lasts until the court conducts a hearing. A protective order may also order the abuser to leave your home while providing child and spousal support. Most orders last for two years, but it is possible to extend them to last a lifetime (see more information).
Note that all court services for victims of domestic violence in Texas are FREE. These include filing and serving the abuser with a copy of the protective order.