A new study of domestic violence in the Houston region by the University of Houston’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality found intimate partner violence homicides doubled in three years and calls to shelters rose past pre-pandemic levels. To turn the tide, the study authors recommend significant community investment in expanded domestic violence infrastructure coordination and staffing.
The institute’s findings are detailed in a February 2023 Report to the Community that studied Houston-area domestic violence providers and aggregated local domestic violence data.
Researchers combined data from the Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Office and found there were 32 intimate partner violence homicides in 2019, 46 in 2020, 60 in 2021 and 64 in 2022.
The study also found a decline in calls for shelter during the pandemic, likely due to victims in lockdown with their abusers and a fear of developing COVID-19 while in a shelter. The decline in calls was followed by a rise in calls for shelter at above or equal to pre-pandemic levels.
As a possible game changer for Houston-area domestic violence response, the report recommends a centralized coordination infrastructure for domestic violence service providers. The recommendation is based on interviews and group discussions the researchers had with leaders of 12 local domestic violence shelters and nonresidential agencies.
“We want to share these insights about the high levels of violence toward women in our region and the under-investment to date in the infrastructure that helps survivors, so the community can take appropriate action,” said Elizabeth Gregory, director of the institute and of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program in UH’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. “We make this recommendation as a starting point for expanding services and for beginning to name and address causes.”
Domestic violence service providers identified inefficiencies like operational redundancies, a lack of unified voice on domestic violence and limited pooled data when each provider operates on its own.
“I have been thirsty for ten years for this coalition to have a united voice,” said Bibi Khan, president and founder of An-Nisa Hope Center, in a quote from the report. “Instead of us struggling individually, … if we have this team and this voice, I think more people will listen to us.”
The Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC), which is not a county agency, provides essential services on housing, community training and law enforcement review. But, the report states, it is underfunded and currently can supply only a portion of the coordination needed.
The institute’s report recommends creating several staff positions including an operations manager, a researcher/evaluator, a communications coordinator and a grant writer, based in the HCDVCC, and additional staff within provider organizations. An investment of $1 million a year for at least five years would be transformative, the report states.
Among the report’s other findings:
- Harris County has 330 shelter beds, while New York City, with twice the population, has more than ten times as many shelter beds, at 3,500.
- The number of households (generally mother and children) requesting housing increased from 956 in 2021 to 1307 in 2022, not including carryover.
- Black women made up 52% of female intimate partner violence homicide victims, though they comprise only 20% of women in Harris County.
- While women make up the majority of intimate partner violence homicide victims, men make up the majority of victims of other forms of family violence.
- Guns accounted for 73% of identified intimate partner violence deaths over 2019-2022.