Survivor Experience

Survivors show immense strength every day throughout Texas as well as encountering barriers when trying to seek the support and assistance they need.

Click on the system icons below to see the strengths and barriers of that system and to hear more about the stories shared through the Texas State Plan. The Texas State Plan team had the privilege of speaking with approximately 200 survivors in Texas. These survivors showed immeasurable courage in telling their stories and explaining the many obstacles they faced as they sought safety. They told stories of systems that stood with them at every turn, along with their own displays of immense strength and resourcefulness as they sought to create a safer home for their families. 

 Survivors also live in a complex web of systems that can either act as a lifeline for help or as missed connections. Every choice is a result of layers of reality, including personal identities and history, relationship factors, structures and procedures of organizations they interact with, and overarching policies and societal norms. Texas consists of diverse communities, ranging from sparsely populated farmland to massive cities. These communities each have their own barriers and strengths that intersect on multiple different levels. On this page, you will see consistent themes through the words of survivors, including direct quotes. As you read through their realities, picture how different life experiences, race and privilege, geographic location, and lived experience could affect a survivor’s interactions with each of these different systems. Click on the system icons below to see the strengths and barriers of that system and to hear more about the stories shared through the Texas State Plan.

 You can also read two narratives that bring to life both sides of a survivor’s experience: one that highlights the strengths of a community and systems providing support and another that shows what it might be like if a survivor only experienced closed doors.

Survivor Stories

Throughout the State Plan, the research team spoke with about 200 survivors who chose to tell their stories and explain the barriers and successes that they experienced. Below, you can read two narratives that bring to life both sides of a survivor’s experience–one that highlights the strengths of a community and systems providing support and another that shows what it might be like if a survivor only experienced closed doors. 

“When you hear others talking about what they have gone through and you have gone through the same thing and they were able to get through it and I can too.” – Survivor

“I felt like I had people to talk to but a lot of people are very judgmental so–some people would just say, ‘oh, you should’ve left a long time ago. You knew this was gonna happen.’ Just degrading–the fact that I didn’t leave prior to when I did.” –  Survivor

Relationships and Social Support

Strengths

Decreased trauma symptoms are significantly correlated with a survivor having people in their lives who can help them with everyday activities, as well as giving them a sense of belonging and love. This social support also provides them with more options as they make choices about their relationship.

Barriers

Many survivors feel a sense of stigma or shame connected to experiencing family or dating violence, both personally or culturally. This, coupled with the common tactic of abusive partners to isolate their partners, can create a lack of connectedness and support that has ripple effects throughout their life.

“I have a place to stay. Well, it’s my house. They helped me get it.” –  Survivor

“So, you go to the housing and you ask for help, but the whole apartment’s asking for help. So, what are they going to do with all of these people who need a home and everything is filled or on waiting lists for up to a year waiting? I don’t really think it’s their fault, but where do you go from there?” –  Survivor

Housing

Strengths

Texas’ vast size results in a variety of available housing modalities and recent funds to support access to housing options, such as transitional housing, have slightly improved access for some survivors. Texas also benefits from having state policies that promote the ability for survivors to break their lease if needed. (Section 92.016, Texas Property Code).  

Barriers

Many communities in Texas lack affordable housing and extensive wait-lists for any housing programs, including Section 8 vouchers. If a survivor must leave their home to seek safety, they are most often doing so into homelessness. Survivors also face additional barriers, such as an eviction or accrued debt that make housing harder to find in the future. Compounding those realities with other obstacles, such as prior financial abuse or isolation, a criminal charge, or trying to find a safe space on a less than a living wage, can easily lead to homelessness or housing instability throughout their lives..

“This time there was just one officer angel. This time the officer took his time. He let me know ‘I understand. While there’s certain things I can only do within my limitations, legal limitations I want you to know I don’t agree with what’s happening right now.’ He apologized on behalf of things that he could not do. He went above and beyond. He even wrote turn by turn directions for me to find this place [the family violence shelter]. It was like ‘Thank you’.” – Survivor

“If I say [to law enforcement], ‘I wanna press charges,’ you can see it in their face immediately. ‘That’s a lot of paperwork, ma’am. You sure that’s what you wanna do?’ And they try to intimidate you and make you feel like your case is not strong. “He said you hit him, too, … You don’t have anything. I don’t see anything.’ And I’ve let that intimidate me in the past. It gets to the point where you’re like ‘No.’ Once it’s happened to you so many times…If you don’t have that paper trail then you’re screwed.” – Survivor

Law Enforcement

Strengths

Law enforcement officers throughout Texas are often the first line of connection to services for survivors. Through innovative programs like Coordinated Community Response (CCR) and Domestic Violence High Risk Teams (DVHRTs) law enforcement– in conjunction with their allied system partners– stand ready to support survivors and hold offenders accountable in Texas. When law enforcement officers are effectively trained and equipped to provide trauma-informed responses to survivors, they can be the key to safety.

Barriers

There are many reasons, including prior interactions with the systems and retaliation from their partner, that a survivor may not want to report to law enforcement. For many survivors, especially those in historically marginalized communities, a call to law enforcement can feel like an option that will only create more danger. Survivors report sometimes being arrested themselves due to lack of understanding by the law enforcement officer responding to the power and control dynamics inherently linked to domestic violence. Simply put, a response that is not trauma-informed and mindful of the dynamics of domestic violence can stop a survivor from accessing services or seeking assistance in the future.

“When {legal services agency} will come and open up everything again. This man is going to realize, I’m standing and I’m strong, and behind me, I have this association!” – Survivor

“And personally, from my personal experiences, the judges when it comes to domestic abuse, it’s not so cut and dry. I have yet to find a sympathetic judge that completely understands. That’s just how it is. Domestic abuse, even though it’s been going on forever, it’s still a new concept, especially when it comes to court.”  –  Survivor

Criminal Justice System & Legal Services

Strengths

Cost free remedies like Protective Orders, Victim Assistance programs, and notifications of batterer release (Victim Information and Notification Everyday or V.I.N.E.) create paths for survivors to understand how the legal system can support them. There are also some limited, cost-efficient legal services available through Legal Aids and statewide non-profits for survivors seeking criminal or civil assistance. Some survivors define justice as their abuser being arrested and processed through the criminal justice system. For these survivors, prosecutors can act as a strong ally providing consequences against their partners, even if the survivor wishes to drop charges due to fear of retaliation or other decision.

Barriers

Issuance of Protective Orders and bond conditions are subjective to a judge’s discretion, which can create wide differences throughout the state, with some survivors being easily able to receive a Protective Order and others completely unable and discouraged. There are many ways that abusers use power and control tactics on their partners that cannot currently be captured under the law, which leaves both law enforcement and survivors frustrated at lack of justice-related options. Some prosecutors may further revictimize survivors by forcing them to participate in the court hearing and relive an experience after dropping charges or violating a survivor’s confidentiality.

“I’ve seen that it’s very empowering for them. I don’t tell them, ‘Oh, you have depression or you have PTSD.’ I just don’t. I tell them I’m not a doctor, I don’t diagnose, but I’ll give them information, we’ll go over the pamphlets, and we’ll do a group. What is PTSD? What is Depression? And then they’ll self-diagnose themselves… and it’s empowering for them because then they can go to their doctor and say, ‘I really think I have this or I’m suffering from this,’ or ‘I’m not crazy, I have PTSD because I was a victim of violence.” –  Advocate

”… so, we try really hard to help them with that, but there’s not even mental health doctors here. So, it makes it very hard to service them. We do have [local mental health authority] but they’re very hard to get into. Sometimes it’s a month or longer. They [survivors] can’t wait that long.” –  Advocate

Mental Health System

Strengths

Community awareness and decrease of social stigma surrounding mental health issues has grown exponentially during the past decade. Creative resources, such as telepsychiatry and telehealth are increasing access to services for survivors, even in rural areas. The majority of family violence service providers have at least one therapist on staff who can provide trauma-informed counseling to survivors. Many programs have ongoing relationships with their local clinics or hospitals to provide affordable or no-cost services to the clients they are not equipped to serve within their program.

Barriers

Texas has a shortage of mental health professionals, both in psychiatric care and counseling supports. When it is economically feasible for a survivor to seek this type of care there are typically large wait-lists and long travel distances. Some mental health service options impose limitations on whom they can serve based on the level of crisis the survivor is in at the time or the diagnosis. Seeking substance-use care or rehabilitation options are even more limited, especially if a survivor is trying to parent at the same time. This can result in survivors waiting to receive basic treatment for previously manageable mental health or substance-use problems only after a critical point, potentially result in harm to themselves or someone else, has been reached.

“They immediately called in for some kind of program with CPS, and so the lady who was handling the CPS, she asked me, you know, I was telling her like ‘I called and nobody’s calling me back,’ and so she’s the one who made a call for me.” – Survivor

“Um, I mean just with CPS, I feel like they could try a little harder. You kinda tell them situations and then they are like ‘ok’ and then just overlook it. It’s not very important to them.” –  Survivor

Department of Family and Protective Services

Strengths

DFPS holds the value that, as a society, no child should be subject to abuse or neglect by the people who care for them. If a case worker can validate the many protective factors that a co-parenting survivor uses to create a safe environment for their children, it can be a life changing experience. DFPS has the potential to be a system champion and uniquely hold abusive parents accountable. Survivors shared that helpful interactions with DFPS caseworkers connected them with services and resources that started their journey to safety.

Barriers

Many survivors expressed concern about accessing services for fear that their children would be taken by the Child Protective Services (CPS) system. When they did have CPS interventions, many felt that the remedies caused extra obstacles or that their stories of family violence were not taken seriously. It is also common for abusive partners to use the threat of calling CPS as a control tactic, especially if there is a history of mental health related issues or substance use. Some survivors had the perception that CPS favors “quick fixes” like mandated parenting classes above whole family, long-term stability.

“She [the advocate] loves her job, and she loves people. So, she’s gonna put more effort into it. She’s very helpful. She gives me the resources that I need, and if I can’t find it, she’ll tell me to come back, and she will find it. ” –  Survivor

“They don’t have the funding available to offer anything more extensive than sometimes 30 days, sometimes three months. And if you’re talking about someone who has basically gone about destroying your entire life, it’s not something you can rebuild during that time. Usually, that time is barely enough for you to get your bearings and your sense of self and just to collect your own self and your thoughts and to gather your own safety and then by the time that happens, you’re already looking at the end of your stay here and you’re having to find somewhere else and it comes to a situation where you’re bouncing from shelter to shelter, which is really prohibitive to what it is you’re trying to do.” –  Survivor

Family Violence Service Providers

Strengths

Throughout the state, family violence programs provide a range of services, which include everything from a 24-hour hotline and emergency shelter to counseling and case management. Each program strives to meet the needs for their specific community in different ways and often tailor their services and outreach to meet local needs. At their best, family violence providers provide a non-judgmental, trauma-informed space for survivors to feel connected to services, their advocates, and other survivors. Many survivors talked about the programs and their dedicated staff as the pivotal piece to their safety and stability.

Barriers

Funding restraints and staffing shortages can create levels of scarcity throughout family violence programs that put undue hardship on survivors and advocates alike. Strict rules, lack of cultural responsiveness in some shelters, and short lengths of stay may foster lack of clarity as well as restrictive environments for survivors and their children. Most shelters in Texas utilize communal living, which is often a challenge for survivors who have experienced trauma.

“…transportation. Because I need to move from one place to another and they have helped me with that.” –  Survivor

“You can have people that know about the services, but how do they get there because the buses only come so far… If you live in the outskirts of town and don’t live on that bus system, it could take you 5 hours to get to us.” – Advocate

Transportation

Strengths

Transportation is a link to services, support–both formal and informal–and in many cases a lifeline to safety. The majority of family violence centers in Texas, 92.5%, provide some form of transportation in recognition of the critical link this service provides to survivors. Collaborative approaches to enhancing access to transportation services include working with law enforcement and public transport systems, offering pre-paid bus passes, or employing a driver to transport survivors.

Barriers

Due to wait-lists and space restraints, 41% of Texas family violence survivors who call for shelter are denied due to lack of available space. This creates the need for survivors to migrate away from their home communities to receive services, which essentially cuts them off from existing social networks and familiarity with a particular community. Many Texas cities, especially those in rural areas, have limited or no public transportation, making it difficult to get around within a city, let alone from city to city. A program might have access to limited resources, such as bus passes, gas cards, or small financial assistance for car repairs. However, these are few and far between, which leaves many survivors stranded without a way to work or keep friendships and families connected.

“My son kind of got in trouble because he went to acting out because of our situation and the counselor kind of called me and I kind of let her know what was going on and she referred me to [other service provider]. Honestly, they just were trying to help me in other ways and I – actually through conversation I let it slip – about the – because I did have a protective order against my husband, and I let it slip, and when I let it slip they kind of just went from there and referred me.” –  Survivor

“I would be left with thoughts of ‘do I want to pull her from school, and take her away from her everyday life?’ It was one thing to remove myself, but I still wanted them (the children) to have some form of normalcy.” ) –  Survivor

Schools

Strengths

Often, one of the consistent places in a survivor and their child’s lives is a school. Whether this is for their own education, or through their role as a parent, schools are a frequent referral source for survivors of informal support when family violence is occurring in the home. Schools are also one of the key places where prevention efforts occur through supporting youth to learn more about healthy relationships. Given that many survivors in the State Plan stated they wish they had received this type of information, schools play a dual role in the intervention and prevention of family violence.

Barriers

Schools can present a lost opportunity for key educational and community professionals to identify and offer support for family violence survivors and make connections to needed resources. Survivors also struggle with the decision to potentially remove their child from the stable atmosphere of their school to seek safety for the family unit. Further, if prevention of family violence is a goal for survivors and advocates alike, then the research that shows that nearly one-fourth of family violence agencies report not offering healthy relationship education at all age levels and 50% are unable to offer family violence informational materials in public schools due to school board policies or community norms.

“And, so, having access to that health care makes the difference of me being able to receive treatment or not. I think a lot of times people don’t understand some of the issues they have that result from dealing with abuse, because they don’t have access to health care.” –  Survivor

“Here medical services are very expensive and I ask God not to fall into a bed and not get sick because I don’t know what I am going to do.” –  Survivor

Healthcare

Strengths

Close to 50% of female victims of family violence and 22% of male victims will seek help from health care providers (Ansara & Hindin, 2010) with research indicating that women who do so are four times more likely to use an intervention (McCloskey et al., 2006). With the appropriate tools to provide universal education, many victims of family violence could potentially receive the resources and connections they need from doctors, nurses, and other health care experts. To support this intersection, 89% of family violence agencies report distributing materials to health care settings and 82% provide training that allows for these key helping professionals to have access to referral connections.

Barriers

Family violence and health and wellness are interwoven with research showing that family violence contributes to a variety of chronic health problems (Coker, Smith, Bethea, King & McKeown, 2000). Access to needed care can be hard to obtain with 37% of survivors saying that they stayed longer or returned to an abusive relationship because they were worried about being able to meet their own or their children’s medical needs without their partner’s insurance or financial help (We Would Have Had to Stay, 2018). Additionally, through the Texas State Plan research we see that not all health care providers are identified by survivors as helping professionals with the role of health care providers in addressing IPV rarely coming up over the course of interviews.

“I’m working on that. I have my lawyer that she’s working for the VAWA Visa for free.” –  Survivor

“Me sacaron de la casa a la una de la mañana me quedé en el frio, en la calle, en este país que no conocía nada, ni siquiera la tienda, porque nunca había salido a la calle a pasear.” (“They kicked me out of the house at one in the morning. I was in the cold, on the street, in this country where I didn’t know anything, not even the store, because I had never left to go for a walk on the street.”) – Survivor

Immigration Service Provider

Strengths

Immigration Service Providers stand as a link to a safer future by providing clarity on the options that are available for an immigrant survivor and assisting them in navigating a complex legal system.  Immigration service providers are also able to provide free assistance in applying for a visa or seeking legal status as well as legal representation when necessary.  Immigration assistance is directly provided at 65% of surveyed family violence agencies, with the most common assistance being referral to immigration attorneys (89%) offering ‘know your rights’ information (83%) and writing letters of support for immigration remedies (71%). 

Barriers

For those who have experienced family violence, increased immigration enforcement and the uncertainty within immigrant communities can present a barrier to seeking support from governmental and community-based services. Immigrant survivors regularly encounter a fear of deportation or fear of how law enforcement may interact if they were to engage as barriers to help-seeking. Often, abusive partners use this fear and the immigration system , as an extension of their efforts to exert power and control over immigrant survivors of abuse (Dutton, Orloff & Hass, 2000). Another result of immigration or migration within Texas is that immigrant survivors often experience a lack of social support due to low proximity to friends and family and fear of sharing personal details of their legal status with those that they interact with. Immigrant survivors are continually navigating changing policies, which causes uncertainty about what social welfare programs they can access and what remedies may be available to them.  

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