In 2017, 136 women in Texas were killed by a male intimate partner.
Of the Texas women who reached out to the Texas Council on Family Violence programs that year to secure safe housing to escape a violent partner, 40 percent were denied due to lack of resources and available space in shelters.
Texas, we must do better than send almost half of women seeking help back into violent homes.
Lewis Bright, 47, is accused of stabbing his wife, Erica, in their San Antonio apartment on Nov. 16, 2017. Bright allegedly left Erica at an emergency clinic before fleeing. Erica died in that clinic after telling staff that Bright had stabbed her.
Authorities arrested Bright a few weeks later and charged him with murder. Bright has a history of domestic violence and was on probation at the time. Erica is survived by her three children.
It’s possible that if laws were in place like two of the bills Texas legislators are voting on this session, SB 234 and SB 1804, women who were in the same predicament as Erica Bright might still be alive. The two bills would provide exceptional funding for unmet needs of those affected by intimate partner violence.
SB 234 would grant the right to vacate and avoid residential lease liability following the occurrence of family violence. At present, Texas women are often left without housing options after experiencing family violence because they are unable to break their lease. SB 234 would help pave the way for victims to avoid being trapped in a legal contract with their abuser, putting them and their families at further risk for violence.
Another issue survivors of family violence face is retaliation after a victim has reported family violence. Studies have shown that survivors are most at risk after they’ve left the home. This means abusers are most likely to perpetrate violence to the point of death if they have been reported and/or the victim leaves the home.
Therefore, SB 1804 would require certain measures be taken once a batterer is released on bond to keep the victim safe during this especially high-risk time. These measures include firearms surrender, entering the alleged abuser’s name into a police network database and notifying the victim.
Lewis Bright was a repeat offender of intimate partner violence and was on probation. Under SB 1804, his crime would have been logged in an online system to help flag any other domestic violence calls as serious.
Additionally, Erica Bright would have had proper notification when he was released, allowing her to take measures to keep herself and her children safe. Also, legal options for vacating a residential lease proposed in SB 234 could have afforded her a way out of a violent home.
Chances are someone you know and love is personally affected by family violence considering 19,724 Texans called family violence hotlines in 2017. Together, with state lawmakers, let’s answer those calls with a hopeful message.
Ashley Ables is a master’s student at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and a research assistant with the Department of Population Health at Dell Medical School. This opinion piece appeared in the San Antionio Express-News; it represents the views of the author, not of The University of Texas at Austin or the Steve Hicks School of Social Work.