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Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Instead of my usual question-and-answer column, I would like to provide some information on family violence and steps victims can take to protect themselves.

The most important thing to remember is that no one deserves to be hit, threatened, or to live in fear in their home. If you are living in an abusive or threatening situation, please take steps to protect yourself and your children. If you know someone living in a violent situation, help that person take steps to protect him or herself. Remember, help is available at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE (7233); TI7Y for the Deaf (800) 787-3224.

Leaving an abusive situation is potentially a very dangerous time. However, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of harm. Of course, if you are in immediate danger, you should leave right away.

If you are considering leaving an abusive home, you should make arrangements for a safe place for you and your children to stay.

This might be a relative or friend’s home or a shelter for victims of family violence. You should also keep a supply of clothing and extra medication where you can access it in an emergency.

If possible, set up your own checking account or make arrangements to have money available to you. Find someone who is willing to lend you money should you need to leave at a moment’s notice.

When preparing to leave, make sure that you keep enough change for pay phones or carry a calling card with you. You should also take the phone number of the place you are intending to go.
Decide on a safe place to keep copies of important documents such as insurance information, birth and marriage certificates, health records, social security cards, and financial records. Remember it may not be possible for you to retrieve these items after you leave.

Many victims are hesitant to leave because they feel they can’t afford the cost. The Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, which is administered by my office, may be able to help with expenses incurred as a result of leaving an abusive home. Victims of acts of family violence that occurred on or after June 19, 1999 may qualify for up to $3,800 in financial assistance from the Program. This one-time assistance includes up to $2,000 for moving expenses and up to $1,800 for assistance with rent associated with moving away from the abuser.

In addition to money for relocation, survivors of family violence who have dependent children can receive loss of support payments on behalf of their dependent children. These funds can, on a temporary basis, help make up for the income lost by leaving a partner or spouse. Victims can also receive help with expenses such as crime-related medical and counseling bills. For more information on the compensation program, visit the Office of the Attorney General Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us. Applications for compensation are available online and by calling my office at (800) 983-9933.

Once you have left an abusive situation, there are other steps you should take to protect yourself and your children. When you are at home, make sure that all of your doors and windows are locked. Inform your neighbors and landlord that the abuser no longer lives with you and that they should call the police if they see him or her near your home.

Request an unlisted/unpublished phone number, and never call the abuser from that number. Sign up for Caller ID services to screen your calls, and keep a log of any calls the abuser makes to your home.

To help protect your children, devise a safety plan for when you are not with them. Provide their schools and/or daycare facilities with a list of people who are allowed to pick them up.

At work, inform your security office or managers about your situation. If possible have someone screen your incoming calls and escort you to or from your car or the bus or subway.

You can access more information, assistance, and referrals for survivors of family violence by contacting:

Texas Council on Family Violence
(800) 525-1978

Women’s Advocacy Project
Emergency Advocacy Hotline
(888) 325-SAFE (7233)

Women’s Advocacy Project Family Violence Legal Line
(800) 374-HOPE (4673)

Remember, no one should have to live in fear.