AUSTIN, Texas -- Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault met with lawmakers at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to ask they put more money into the budget to help victims and pass legislation to protect them.
According to the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) and Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), more than 72,000 women, children and men stayed in one of the 80 state-funded domestic violence shelters last year. Those shelters had to turn down 39 percent of the requests for service because they didn't have enough space or resources. And in 2015, 158 women were killed by their male intimate partners.
Before meeting with lawmakers, the TCFV, TAASA and Mary Kay hosted a rally outside the Capitol to address the issue. A survivor who was physically and sexually abused by her husband shared her story and talked about how the SafePlace shelter in her community helped her.
"There I learned what the cycles of violence are and how it escalates and the patterns and here's the honeymoon stage and what it builds into," said Amy Staggs. "And I knew what to watch for. I knew a safety plan for myself and for those three precious children that were brought into this world."
Staggs said her abuser started with verbal abuse, which escalated to marital rape then physical abuse.
"I noticed, number one it's now in front of the children he's physically assaulting me. And number two we need to find a safe time to leave. So we waited. When he left the next morning, I packed up everything I could and we went to our local shelter. If it wasn't for that, we would have probably been murdered," Staggs said.
TCFV and TAASA are asking legislators to dedicate a total of $63 million to resources. Specifically, they want legislators to support the Health and Human Services Commission core funding request of $56.72 million and their Exceptional Item Funding request of $3 million to support innovative responses. They are also asking them to commit to level funding of $3.5 million to Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs via Rider 47 to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Community Justice Assistance Division.
The groups are also supporting two bills filed by state Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano). Senate Bill 256 makes the home addresses of victims eligible for Protective Orders confidential in public property tax records and voter registration. Senate Bill 257 stops attackers from being able to annually re-litigate protective orders, an act Taylor says forces victims to see their attackers in court.
A 2011 study done by UT found sexual assault costs the state $8 billion per year, so advocates say any money the state directs to fighting it is a good investment.