During the early days of the pandemic, at the height of the lockdown, experts in the domestic violence sphere warned that some people stuck at home were stuck in unsafe situations.
The Texas Tribune reported in the spring of 2020 that in the days leading up to Tarrant County’s order to stay home, SafeHaven, a domestic violence service provider, saw a spike in hotline calls. By the end of March 2020, once the lockdown was in effect, the nonprofit noticed an even more disturbing trend: Its call numbers dropped by almost half.
The pandemic presented new challenges for those working to help victims of domestic violence with statewide lockdowns a thing of the past and a new legislative session underway. The Texas Council on Family Violence has a list of priorities it would like to see Texas lawmakers pass.
Krista Del Gallo, the legislative director at the council, said its main priority this year is the same as it is every session: funding.
“It’s crucial our state continue to support these centers to keep their doors open so survivors have safe spaces to turn to for emergency shelter, safety planning, advocacy and support,” she said. “The Texas Council on Family Violence is pushing for $88 million for these services in the 88th session. This request represents both level funding from our last biennium, as well as increased funding aimed at reducing key barriers survivors face and to give some modest funding to support community education and prevention efforts.”
The council is the only statewide coalition of family violence centers in the state of Texas, Del Gallo said.
“We are dedicated solely to creating safer communities and building opportunities for freedom from family violence in our state,” she said. “We have three main prongs of work that we focus on at the Texas Council. First, we equip service providers like our family violence centers, as well as our batterer intervention and prevention programs, with essential tools to do the work across the state of Texas. We also engage in strategic prevention efforts. And finally … we shape public policy response so that it is responsive to survivors’ diverse needs.”
Del Gallo said the organization analyzes everything through the lens of survivor safety. This goes both for bills the center supports and bills that staff have concerns about.
“Broadly, measures that reduce options, increase barriers for needed remedies or restrict access to important services” are a concern, she said. “We see these as potentially reducing safety for survivors. We also look at proposals that seem to fail to take into account or consider the harms and risks that domestic violence poses to families, victims and whole communities.”
Del Gallo said her team looks for opportunities during the session to educate lawmakers about the importance of their efforts.
“In terms of the funding, our Texas Legislature has historically been generous to family violence services,” she said. “So we are again looking to our Legislature to continue to invest, especially in this session where folks have heard we do have adequate funding in our coffers. So we want to see the Legislature investing both in family violence-specific services and also in those broad services and supports for individuals that will not just help one low-income individual or one person coming out of a vulnerable situation – but anything that lifts up folks as a whole will also lift up survivors and increase safety.”