Texas Young Lawyers Educate Domestic Violence Victims
Jason T. Vail is an associate editor of The Affiliate and a staff attorney/legal editor at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, Illinois.
As both the City Attorney for Cranfills Gap, Texas, and the newly elected Bosque County Attorney, Natalie Koehler knows firsthand the difficulties faced by domestic violence victims when they attempt to navigate the legal system. The complexities of court processes can be daunting to any non-attorney seeking to obtain protection from an abuser, and such challenges are particularly heightened in rural areas where few, if any, resources are available to provide guidance and advocacy on behalf of victims. Lacking such assistance, many victims become discouraged and forego legal protections, a choice that ultimately leaves them vulnerable to further abuse and violence. Koehler, the secretary of the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA), has worked to fill informational gaps for victims in her own rural community, and in so doing helped the TYLA create domestic violence resources that will help victims across Texas and serve as models for other state affiliate programs.
Like the rest of the country, Texas has a significant domestic violence problem. In 2005, 143 women were reported killed in Texas by their intimate partners. The Texas Department of Public Safety reports that in 2006, 186,868 incidents of family violence were documented statewide. But the Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates that as many as 982,916 Texas women were actually battered that year. Overall, more than 800 women were killed by their domestic partners from 1998–2005 in the state of Texas. Many of these violent incidents could have been avoided if the victims had obtained protective orders.
In the face of these statistics, Koehler and the TYLA developed a pamphlet entitled “Ending the Violence: How to Obtain a Texas Protective Order.” Written for the non-attorney, the pamphlet guides the reader through the process for obtaining a protective order, explains the legal effects of an order, and provides phone numbers for additional resources available to victims. The pamphlet is distributed by the State Bar of Texas and is available online at www.tyla.org/pdfs/35787-TYLA%20ProtectiOrderPamphletFINAL.pdf.
On the heels of creating this successful pamphlet, Koehler and the TYLA Family Law Committee produced a video that will be shown to women trying to escape abusive relationships. The video, Healing the Wounds: Navigating the Legal System After Surviving Domestic Abuse, was made possible by a generous grant from the Texas Bar Foundation and will be shown to women checking into battered women’s shelters around the state of Texas. The professionally filmed and produced twenty–twenty-five minute informative video, available in Spanish and English, includes details on how to obtain a protective order, a temporary restraining order, and what to expect in a divorce. The video portrays the story of “Melinda,” a domestic violence survivor, and her road through the legal system. The goal of the video is to alleviate some of the fear and confusion that arises when victims begin navigating the court system to obtain legal protections.
The video was released formally in October 2008 during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Created by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the intent of the commemorative month is to connect battered women’s advocates across the nation who are working together to end violence against women and children.
Immediately following the video’s release, it was shown first at the Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas, followed by showings at the San Antonio Battered Women’s Shelter and Rape Crisis Center and Lubbock’s Women’s Protective Services. In partnership with the Texas Council on Family Violence, the TYLA is working to ensure the video is shared with legal advocates working in shelters throughout the state. The video can be seen online at www.tyla.org .
TYLA Volunteers Lead the Way
The video project was made possible by countless volunteer hours contributed by TYLA Family Law Committee members, including Alfonso Cabanas ( San Antonio), Carvana Cloud (Houston), Demetra Liggins ( Houston), Kristy Piazza ( Plano), Ian Pittman ( University of Texas Law Student), Jobe Rodgers ( Lubbock), Chris Rogers ( Dallas), along with Koehler, serving as Executive Committee Advisor. In addition, TYLA received great assistance from both the Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas and the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter of Bexar County. Lara Gaither, Outreach Director of the Genesis Women’s Shelter, stated that “an ‘intake’ video streamlining this [legal] process would greatly benefit not only those living in our Shelter, but also the thousands of clients we serve in our Transitional Housing and Outreach programs.”