More housing needed for violence survivors, initial findings show

Sunday, Mar 03, 2019

Dr. Voth Schrag

A dozen Tarrant County women died after they were stabbed, shot or strangled by an intimate partner in 2017, according to a report released recently by a statewide advocacy agency.

The statistic places Tarrant County as the third deadliest in the state for women suffering death at the hands of a husband, boyfriend or former partner.

The Austin-based Texas Council on Family Violence released the report, “Honoring Texas Victims,” to increase awareness of male-on-female domestic violence.

The report seeks also to honor the memories of domestic violence victims, some of whom died in mass shootings. In 2017, for example, 27-year-old Meredith Hight’s estranged husband killed her and seven of her friends as they watched a football game at her Collin County home. The shootings came roughly a month after she filed for divorce.

Two other Texas shootings – one at a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and the other at a school in Sante Fe - are highlighted in the report as well. Both came after the male shooters were rebuffed by an ex-spouse or partner.

“At no other time in history has Texas experienced three mass shootings, let alone, with a direct connection to domestic and dating violence,” wrote Gloria Aguilera Terry, chief executive officer of the Council on Family Violence, in the report. “The state and nation reeled from these events that gave us an all-too-close look at the far reach and devastation of domestic and dating violence.”

This month, (February) a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are weighing in on domestic violence issues. The team released preliminary findings from a new study aimed at understanding the experiences of survivors who have not engaged with family violence services.

 “The purpose of the broad project was to understand what the needs are of the survivors …” says Rachel Voth Schrag, an assistant professor at UTA’s School of Social Work.

The UTA researchers presented their findings Feb. 12 in Austin to state leaders, including representatives of Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who shape funding priorities for domestic violence programs.

According to the UTA researchers’ study, survivors reported they had sought assistance from emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, their physicians or other providers, but they experienced barriers accessing those services. So, they didn’t return.

“Barriers included shelter and housing programs being full, long wait times for services and feeling disbelieved or judged by officials,” Voth Schrag says.

More than 28 million people now live in Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quick Facts on the state’s population. That’s 3.7 million more than were living in the bluebonnet state in 2010, according to the bureau, making Texas one of the fastest growing states in the country.

With population growth comes challenges for domestic violence programs, the findings show.

“As the population of Texas has expanded, it has been challenging to keep services available to all survivors who need them,” Voth Schrag says.

Texans must build new emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities to service growing demands from domestic violence survivors.

Leading industry studies show that other states must do the same.

Across the United States, shelters and abuse prevention programs could not meet 11, 441 requests from survivors for assistance on just one day – September 13, 2017, according to “Domestic Violence Counts: 12th Annual Census Report,” a study released by the leading advocacy group the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Sixty-five percent – or 7,416 - of the unmet requests from domestic violence survivors were for housing or transitional living.

“Survivors escaping abuse and beginning new lives have many basic needs…but one of the most immediate needs is a safe place to stay,” researchers wrote in the Washington study. “When victims make the difficult decision to leave, they should not have to worry about where they and their children will sleep at night.”

 Voth Schrag’s team of researchers interviewed 37 survivors of domestic violence for the study.

In lieu of accessing shelter and transitional housing services, the majority of survivors lived with family members or rented a home. They received no financial support to assist with their rent, according to the UTA team’s findings. Twenty-five percent of survivors reported they had experienced homelessness as a result of family violence.

In Texas, 136 women died in 2017 in incidences of male-on-female domestic violence. Most, about 65 percent, were shot. They left behind 211 children.

The majority of the killings - 47 - occurred in Harris and Bexar counties, the Honoring Texas Victims report shows. Elsewhere in North Texas, there were eight killings in Dallas County in 2017

The UTA research team includes UTA School of Social Work Assistant Professor Diana Padilla-Medina and graduate students Kristen Ravi, Sarah Robinson and Kelly Rogers who are pursuing their doctoral degrees and Tesla Silva, Marien Mansfield and Lori-Anna Guillen who are pursuing masters’ degrees.

The team will present their final report within the next two months. It will be published on the Texas Council on Family Violence web site.