Dear Friends of HAWC,

As an advocate for survivors and a supporter of the Houston Area Women’s Center, you play a critical role in the movement to end domestic and sexual violence. For over 45 years, HAWC has been on the frontline providing direct services to individual survivors while also advocating for necessary changes in policies, practices, and laws that govern civil society. Perhaps because of our successes, it can be hard to remember that not too long ago abusive, violent behavior at the hands of an intimate partner was not considered worthy of criminal or civil action.

The legal precedents or infrastructure to advance survivor safety and offender accountability simply were not in place. One of the movement’s signature achievements was the 1994 Violence Against Women’s Act, VAWA. A very important provision in that law prohibits abusers from possessing a firearm as part of a civil protective order. Unfortunately, a recent three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declared this provision unconstitutional and in one fell swoop dramatically upended decades of progress.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, this means that “those subject to domestic violence protection orders issued after notice and a hearing in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, who have been found by a court to pose a danger to an intimate partner or child, are no longer prohibited under federal law from possessing, receiving, shipping or transporting firearms,” as outlined in the VAWA provision. This decision is extremely alarming and portends a future where the legal protections we have worked so hard to secure are in jeopardy.

Firearms are the leading cause of intimate partner homicides.

The Houston region has seen an exponential increase in domestic violence homicides by a gun and this decision will only exacerbate the situation. I invite you to read the statement we have released, and I ask that you rededicate yourself to this movement. We are going to need you in the coming days, months, and years ahead to ensure that the hard-fought gains we have made in the movement to end domestic and sexual violence are not lost.

Until it stops,

HAWC Response: 5th Circuit Ruling

The Houston Area Women’s Center serves thousands of women, children, and families each year who survive domestic abuse, sexual assault, or sex trafficking.  We operate a 24-hour hotline where survivors can visit with a trained advocate to safety plan and get access to resources and support.  We also run a 120-bed shelter for those in imminent danger.

The 5th Circuit Court’s recent decision to declare unconstitutional laws that require abusers to surrender their guns will undoubtedly result in an increase in domestic violence homicides.

HAWC’s trained advocates regularly work with survivors who are being terrorized by an abuser with access to a firearm.  As we work with survivors to safety plan, we do so knowing the risk of homicide is increased by 500% if there is a gun involved.  We remember in 2021 in Texas, more than 70% of the victims of domestic violence homicide were killed by a gun.  

One of the most important services we provide is to help survivors develop a personalized safety plan which includes obtaining a protective order from a judge.  These orders provide an important level of security to survivors and they frequently require that the perpetrators surrender their firearms.  The judge usually gives the abuser the option to sell to a trusted dealer, give to a family member/ or friend, or surrender the gun to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, at least for the duration of the protective order.

It is worth noting between 2020 and 2022 in HPD data, the number of IPV homicides committed with a gun increased by 61%. And let’s remember, not only romantic partners are targeted.  Friends, family, and law enforcement officers are also targeted.  If the justices that ruled in this case had to answer the frantic, desperate calls on our hotline, we would like to think that compassion and common sense would have prevailed.  Instead, The 5th Circuit Decision US vs Rahimi eviscerates the constitutional justification for a life-saving practice that was the result of years of advocacy by front-line advocates alongside law enforcement in order to reduce domestic violence homicides.

Just the other day, we received a call from a client who had endured her abuser putting his gun in her mouth and threatening her life.  Thankfully, she was able to get out before he got angry enough to pull the trigger.  Leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time.  Until the 5th Circuit decision, our client would have been able to get a judge to ensure that her abuser did not have access to his firearm.  If this decision is not overturned, she will have no remedy other than to hide and hope.

Surely, she deserves better.  Surely, we all do.

Abusers with guns are over-represented among mass shooters.  Decisions that empower violent, abusive, and coercive people will only result in collective harm.

Every day, HAWC helps courageous survivors transform their lives, free from violence. Our shelter and hotline provide life-saving services every day, but we cannot do it alone.  It’s up to all of us to insist that the needs of survivors are prioritized, not specious legal reasoning that caters to gun extremists.


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