The numbers are out on family violence in Texas and they aren't good.
According to the Texas Council on Family Violence's 2008 report, released today, 136 women were killed in the state by an intimate partner last year. The youngest was 14 (she was killed by her 15-year-old boyfriend) and the oldest was 74 (she was killed by her common-law husband).
Harris County led the state in deaths, with 29 women dying at the hands of their husband, boy/girlfriend, or ex. The local number goes up to 35 if you add Montgomery, Brazoria, and Galveston counties. That's just shy of three deaths a month. Only Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar counties also reported deaths in the double figures (15, 11, and 10 respectively).
Sally Huffer, community projects specialist with the Montrose Counseling Center says she isn't surprised by the numbers, not even Houston's number-one standing. "It could be a matter of reporting," she says. "How many times is it reported as just assault when it's really a domestic-partner assault?"
Huffer also doubts that the public will be shocked by the numbers (which were 30% higher than those of 2007). "We watch shows like Two and a Half Men, which has a running joke that one character will bring home a woman, get her drunk and then try to have sex with her. You know what? That's sexual assault. But we make if funny. We see these images over and over and it impacts us, it reduces our outrage."
According to Huffer, there are adequate support services for battered women in Houston, but there are some roadblocks in accessing them.
"For example, in our program, we can't take children into our shelter," she says. "There are only so many places that will take people with children. The other thing is that if somebody is using drugs, that limits your choices as well. And let's face it, how many people are doing that as a way to self-medicate, to get through the pain?
"Something else we see is that people sometimes won't leave an abusive relationship because of pets. You would think, 'Really?' But how many people wouldn't leave their homes in Galveston or New Orleans during a hurricane because of their pets?" (BTW, the Houston SPCA will temporarily shelter pets for women entering shelters or other housing that doesn't allow pets.)
Even with shelters and social services available to women, the biggest obstacle in keeping women safe is the fact that women leave an abusive relationship an average of seven times before they are able to make the break for good. The back-and-forth is not only dangerous but strains a woman's support system. "If you have a friend who is in an abusive relationship, and you try to help her, once she leaves and goes back, leaves and goes back, leaves and goes back -- at what point do you start rolling your eyes and saying, 'I can't help this person,'" says Huffer.
So how do you avoid becoming a statistic in next year's family violence report? Huffer has some concrete suggestions.
Don't talk about your abuse with your partner in the next room.
Statistics show that if your partner discovers that you're reaching out for help and support, he/she will tend to become even more violent in order to maintain control.
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Avoid couple's counseling.
Telling a therapist what a jackass your husband is -- in front of your husband -- isn't smart. If you want to try counseling, go on your own later - after you've left the situation.
Don't dial 911 while you're in the house with your partner. Get out and then call for help.
We've got three words for you: SWAT and hostage situation.
Put together a getaway plan.
Gather copies of important documents, some cash, ID, emergency phone numbers, a change of clothes and the like and keep it in a safe place such as friend's house, a locker at the Y, in the bottom drawer of you desk at the office -- anywhere but at home or car where your partner may find it. (The most clever getaway plan Hair Balls ever heard of was one involving laundry. A woman grabbed a basket of dirty laundry and told her husband she was going to the washateria, the one place he was loathe to follow her. The basket really contained several changes of clothes and her important papers, and $20 in quarters -- enough for a taxi ride to a friend's house.)
And finally, stop making excuses for your partner. No more, "He only does this when he's drunk."
Batterers don't usually go off at the grocery story or other public places. So if he can control himself at the HEB, why can't he control himself at home? When he's drinking at his favorite sports bar, he doesn't just start wailing on the bartender, does he? Drunk or not drunk, he knows what he's doing. Huffer says, "In as much as we can say that alcohol and drugs do contribute, we still know that violence is a choice that someone is making."