AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new federal grant of $650,000 means help is on the way in Travis County for victims of violence seeking legal assistance or counseling.
The money was awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women to Travis County Justice Planning, SafePlace and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. The grant will be used to create an Intimate Partner Sexual Assault Prosecution Unit in the District Attorney’s Office.
According to the DA’s Office, the grant will provide funding for one prosecutor and a senior office specialist who will directly handle intimate partner/acquaintance sexual assault cases. The hires will hopefully be completed by the end of the month.
In a press release, the Travis Co. DA’s Office explained,
The unit will add a prosecutor and office specialist to complement the newly created victim/witness counselor position (funded last year through another community collaborative grant from OVW). This unit will handle intimate partner/acquaintance sexual assaults committed against adult victims, as well as other offenses occurring contemporaneously with the sexual assault, such as assault, strangulation, stalking, violation of a protective order, and/or burglary of habitation. This unit will be well situated to handle the legal and factual complexities of these cases.”
Asst. District Attorney Dana Nelson said, “Victims of intimate partner sexual assault need more support in order to hold offenders accountable.” She continued, “Holding offenders accountable is a really important piece of providing justice and safety, not just for those individual victims, but also for our entire community.”
Nelson said that about one-third of all sexual assault cases filed in Travis County involve intimate partner relationships.
“The pressures unique to family violence are still present in those sexual assault cases where victims feel tremendous pressure to withdraw from the process,” added Nelson. “We want to provide increased safety and support for those victims so they can continue in the process and hold their offenders accountable.”
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid is also a partner on the grant. It will provide civil legal services for survivors who need them, including applicable issues like necessary lease termination and/or lawsuits affecting parent/child relationships.
Domestic violence deaths reached a new high in Texas last year: 157 women were killed, three of them in Williamson County, after no deaths in 2014.
“Today’s announcement is a needed step in orienting our public structures to deal with an uncomfortable fact: most sexual assaults are perpetrated by people known to the survivors,” said Emily LeBlanc, Sr. Director of Community Advocacy, The SAFE Alliance. “We are pleased that additional resources will be used to prosecute the perpetrators of intimate partner assault, and we look forward to working with our local leaders and partners in the community to ensure these crimes receive the priority attention they deserve.”
Under management by the Travis County Justice Planning and Family Violence Directors, workers will offer legal guidance involving the complexities of sensitive cases. Partnering with SafePlace, they will help train the workers along with the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid who will offer civil legal services.
Some signs of an abusive relationship from the Survive to Thrive Foundation include:
- Exerting strict control (financial, social and/or appearance).
- Needing constant contact including excessive texts and calls.
- Emotional abuse including insulting a partner in front of other people.
- Extreme jealousy.
- Showing fear around a partner.
- Isolation from family and friends.
- Frequent canceling of plans at the last minute.
- Unexplained injuries or explanations that don’t quite add up.
The grant’s term is three years long. It will be eligible for renewal at that time.