P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 1998
This weeks news headlines announced a drop in the rate of serious crime for a remarkable sixth straight year. In the face of such encouraging statistics, we must not lose sight of the facts surrounding an often hidden crime: family violence. While other types of serious crime are declining, the incidence of family violence continues to increase at an alarming rate.
The Texas Department of Public Safety started tracking domestic violence cases in 1991. During that year more than 126,000 incidents were reported to Texas police officers. By 1997, the number had climbed almost 50% to 181,773 cases. Of all the women killed in Texas last year, 35% were murdered by their intimate male partners, a rate higher than the national average of 28% reported by the FBI. These dark statistics demonstrate that family violence is a far more pervasive reality than most people assume, particularly in light of the decreases in other types of violent crime.
High-profile cases, such as those involving O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, remind us that domestic violence can cross racial, cultural, gender and socio-economic boundaries. The private nature of family life hides from public view, many, if not most, incidents of abuse and violence. An abuse victim can be the neighbor next door.
As the nation has become more aware of this domestic travesty over the past 20 years, attention has been focused on addressing the issue through state and federal legislation. In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed comprehensive measures providing tougher penalties for batterers and stalkers. However, current law does not go far enough.
In response, one of my top legislative priorities will be to create stronger penalties for repeat offenders and for those batterers who commit violence in front of a child. The cumulative, long-term impact of continued violence on our children is frightening. When a person has witnessed domestic abuse as a child, the odds become 40% greater that he will someday be arrested for a violent crime of his own, or, at the very least, will suffer social and mental health problems as a result.
When family violence is exposed, the legal system should provide the tools to protect and prosecute. I have filed another bill which will extend the duration of emergency orders and protective orders to cover that dangerous time when an abuser is released from confinement in jail or prison. This legislation will also let victims get an extension of a protective order without a new act of violence if the fear of continued abuse still exists.
I also plan to file a bill which will prohibit parents with a history of family violence from receiving sole custody of a child or having unsupervised visitation. Although current law seems to clearly prohibit such situations, they continue to occur. We need to be sure that children are with the parent best equipped to provide a safe, stable and non-violent environment.
As important and necessary as these changes are, however, the long-term solution will not come from Austin or Washington. Lasting change must begin on a much more personal level.
That reality is especially evident at this time of the year. The holidays are a joyous season but often a difficult time for many people. Family dynamics, coupled with the stresses of the season, can magnify otherwise minor conflicts. You can make a difference within your own home, neighborhood, and community by being sensitive to the warning signals given by those around you. The crisis intervention centers in our area need volunteers who can provide help and hope for those caught in abusive situations. If we all do our part at this and every time of the year, perhaps family violence will join the downward trend we are now experiencing with other types of crime, and that is a change for which we could all be truly thankful.