When “Stay Home, Work Safe” is “Stay Home, Not Safe”: Dealing with Domestic Violence During COVID-19

By: E.A. Putman

Coronavirus is stressful and that stress compounded in close quarters can have dreadful consequences. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. This data was taken under “normal circumstances”. Normal circumstances are not when 1 in 3 people living in America are under a state order to stay home because of a viral infection that has resulted in nearly 69,000 cases and 1,050 deaths in 27 days.

Normal circumstances also does not fathom the abused and abuser occupying the same

“Isolation compounds violence.”–Emilee Dawn Whitehurst

home environment 24/7. But, these are not normal circumstances. For persons subject to a “Stay Home, Work Safe” order (Harris County and contiguous counties), a consistent presence in the home is mandatory unless the absence from the home is for an essential business activity. The alarming rise in positive tests and subsequent deaths led to a hopeful outcome to this confinement. Unfortunately, for victims of domestic violence, “Stay Home, Work Safe” is equivalent to stay home, not safe.  It is, in fact, toxic.

Victims of domestic violence (“VDV”) often have limited resources when attempting to remove themselves from an abusive environment. During the COVID-19 Crisis, those resources may seem even more scant to an individual who desires to flee their situation. VDV often seek the assistance of law enforcement, health personnel and legal representation to protect themselves, treat their physical or mental ailments and obtain lifetime court orders that restricts their abuser.

There are still avenues available during the COVID-19 Crisis:

Legal: Civil Protective Orders, Private Attorneys

While many courts are physically closed, the access to justice and relief is still wide open and the legal representation is still available. Since the March 12, 2020 Standing Order, Harris County has stated it will hear cases that are “essential court matters” such as Protective Orders.

The 280th District Court, which exclusively handles civil protective order/ domestic violence cases filed in Harris County, has adopted the Texas Supreme Court Emergency Order by “suspending all statutory rules and deadlines under Chapter 85 Texas Family Code regarding the setting of hearings on Protective Order matters as well as the duration of temporary ex parte protective orders.” What does this mean? For one, the normal 14 day ex parte protective order (an order based solely on an affidavit and granted without an initial hearing) may be in place until “further Order of the Court” or until a court can hear the merits of the case.

Other family courts, where a Divorce with a Protective Order component may be pending (or can be filed), are shifting to conducting hearings via Zoom. (“Beginning on 04/01/2020, all oral hearings in the 247th shall take place by videoconference.”)

Other Legal: Houston Volunteer Lawyers  (please note:  HVL “cannot guarantee that we will be able to find a volunteer willing to take your case.  If, after 3 months on our waiting list, no attorney volunteers to take your case, we will close your file and notify you.”)

Mental Health Resources: Danni Whitehouse Counseling Services was a panelist at The Putman Firm, PLLC’s Women and New Beginnings 2018 event. Family 1st Counseling Center is a local family-driven counseling center with a focus on childrens mental health.

Shelters/ Resources: Houston Area Womens Center: (713) 528-2121; Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse: (713) 224-9911 and The Montrose Center: (713) 529-3211

Please note: TPF does not receive any financial endorsement or referral from any listed businesses or organizations.

Stay Home, Work Safe may feel isolating especially if you are a victim of domestic violence, but there are still resources, organizations and individuals who can and will continue to provide for those in danger of abuse.

The Putman Firm, PLLC is a family law litigation firm that handles a wide array of family matters including criminal matters that intersect family law, i.e. family violence assault cases, protective orders (criminal and civil) and allegations of child abuse. We are here in any family crisis even during the COVID-19 crisis. If family violence is a part of your life or someone you know,  contact The Putman Firm, PLLC at (281) 501-9033. You can also book a consultation by visiting Your Family Law Attorney.


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