Texas has seen three times the number of family violence deaths since 2017 with rates of family violence increasing across all three counties

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse or intimate partner violence (IPV), is a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. According to the 2010 CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner which equates to more than 10 million individuals every year in the U.S.1 And while this data is dated, local indicators point to an increase in domestic violence since 2010 – particularly during the pandemic.

20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner

Domestic violence not only impacts the individuals directly involved, but also is a substantial public health problem. The National Center for Injury Prevention estimates the cost of intimate partner rape, physical assault, and stalking exceeds $5.8 billion each year — nearly $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health care services.2

Domestic violence can occur in a number of intimate relationships such as parent-child, grandparent-grandchild, siblings, ex- or current spouses, individuals who live together, and current or former dating couples. The majority of individuals who report experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner experienced some form of intimate partner violence for the first time before they were 25.3

To be clear, there is no perfect study or data set that accurately illustrates the prevalence of domestic violence, as cases are often undercounted in official records —  the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that only half of domestic violence cases are actually reported to the police.4

The 2021 Harris County Health and Relationship study conducted by the University of Texas Medical Branch and Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council found that of their survey participants impacted by domestic violence and who reached out for help, the majority sought help from a friend or family member.5

As Houstonians, we should seek to understand, as best we can, what domestic violence is, the many forms it can take, who it may be impacting in our community, and the barriers many individuals face when reporting abuse and seeking assistance. The more we understand about domestic violence in our region, the more we can do, together, to ensure the necessary support is provided to survivors.

“It is not the victim’s fault – STOP victim blaming. We all need to hold the offender accountable. Change the question from ‘Why doesn’t the victim leave?’ to ‘Why does the offender abuse?”

Amy Smith, Sr. Director of Operations and Communications for Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council

A note about terminology

The words we use to describe an individual or situation have meaning and can be powerful.

When tracking the data for any issue area, using common language can be advantageous because it allows all individuals and organizations to be on the same page, creating a mutual understanding of the terms and what is being discussed. However, there is not one set of words that fits all individuals and circumstances.

When referring to an individual who has experienced domestic violence, the word “victim” is often used by members of law enforcement and within the context of courtroom proceedings, but nonprofits tend to use the term “survivor” to provide a sense of empowerment.

In this case, Understanding Houston used data from the Texas Department of Public Safety and matches the language they use when collecting and reporting data, which is the term “victim.”

Forms of Domestic Violence

Often, when people think about domestic violence, they think in terms of physical assault that results in visible injuries to the victim. However, this is only one type of abuse and there are several other categories of abusive behavior. 

  • Control: This can include monitoring phone calls, not allowing freedom of choice, and invading someone’s privacy by not allowing them time and space of their own.
  • Physical Abuse: Which can include hitting, punching, slapping, biting, etc., but can also include strangulation, withholding of physical needs, injuring or threatening to injure others like children or pets, and hitting, kicking, or throwing inanimate objects during an argument.
  • Sexual Abuse: Such as exploiting an individual who is unable to make an informed decision about involvement in sexual activity, laughing or making fun of another’s sexuality or body, and making contact with the victim in any nonconsensual way.
  • Emotional Abuse & Intimidation: Continuous degradation, intimidation, manipulation, brainwashing, or control of another.
  • Isolation: By keeping the victim socially isolated the batterer is keeping the victim from contact with the world. By keeping the victim from seeing who they want to see, doing what they want to do, and controlling how the victim thinks and feels they are isolating the victim from the resources which may help them leave the relationship.
  • Verbal Abuse: Coercion, threats, and blame such as threatening to hurt or kill the victim their children, a family member or even themselves, name calling, yelling, screaming, rampaging, or terrorizing. 
  • Economic Abuse: This can include controlling the family income, making them turn their paycheck over, or causing them to lose a job or preventing them from taking a job, which can make it even more difficult for an individual to leave an abusive relationship as the batterer keeps them from having the necessary financial resources to support themselves.

According to a report from the Texas Council on Family Violence, in 70% of cases, Texas domestic violence offenders abuse the same victim again, even after a warning from authorities or after a protective order was issued6 and many organizations who work in this area agree that the violence almost always escalates over time.

Rates of family violence increased across all three counties in 2020

The annual rate of reported family violence incidents was consistently higher in Harris County compared to Fort Bend and Montgomery counties between 2010 and 2021.  

Across all three counties and the state, reported family violence incidents increased between 2019 and 2020 with Harris County seeing an over 28% increase.

Some of this increase was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated stressors in violent households and/or relationships, thus increasing the frequency and/or severity of domestic violence. 

Indeed, the 2021 Harris County Health and Relationship Study found that of their survey participants impacted by domestic violence, almost 52% reported an increase since the COVID-19 pandemic began and about 6% reported that physical violence began during COVID-19.7

Research has also shown that economic hardship can increase the rate of domestic violence incidents,8,9 with one study finding a 30% increased chance of male perpetrated violence linked to job loss, suggesting that the loss of income can create stress within the household and lead to more time at home, which increases a victim’s exposure to abusive behavior.10

The number of family violence related deaths has increased dramatically since 2017

In 2021, Texas saw the highest number of family violence related deaths in recent history. However, the number of deaths related to family violence had been increasing steadily across the state since 2017 which, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence, could be due to Hurricane Harvey, increased homicide rates overall, and/or a higher prevalence of firearms.

Compared to 2017, Texas experienced nearly three times the deaths in 2021, 529 deaths in 2021 compared to 186 deaths in 2017.

  • Hurricane Harvey: Studies show that rates of violence can increase in the wake of a natural disaster due to increased mental distress and anger as well as limited capacity of safe houses due to increased demands from the affected community or damage caused to the building by the disaster.11,12
  • Homicide Rates: Previous reports from the Texas Council on Family Violence have shown that when general homicides increase overall, lethal violence by intimate partners also show a significant raise.
  • Prevalence of Firearms: In 2000 there were roughly 215,000 active licenses to carry in Texas and by 2018 that number swelled to well over a million. In Texas, and the United States overall, guns are the number one weapon used in domestic violence killings.

Abusers with access to a firearm are more likely to take their partner’s life. Some studies say that owning a firearm makes an abuser five times more likely to take a partner’s life and that domestic violence incidents involving a gun are 12 times more likely to result in death compared to incidents involving other weapons or bodily force.13,14

“Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence…Survivors often stay because of the reality that their abuser will follow through with threats to hurt or kill them, hurt or kill the kids, or harm or kill pets or others.”

Rachna Khare, Executive Director for Daya Houston

Texas prohibits people convicted of some domestic violence misdemeanors from possessing firearms for five years following their release from confinement or community supervision. This penalty does not generally apply to people convicted of threatening a family or household member with imminent violent injury or to people convicted of violent assaults against a current or former dating partner, known as the “boyfriend loophole.” However, with the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on June 25, 2022, people who are convicted of domestic violence (against a current or recent former dating partner) will now be prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm for at least five years.

The majority of reported family violence cases occur between “other family members”

Because domestic violence perpetrators are often close to their victims, it is difficult for the abused individual to reconcile that they are being harmed and, once they do, victims face a  number of fears and stigmas when reporting the abuse and receiving assistance, which can deter many people from reporting their abuse. Some of the reasons domestic violence is frequently unreported include: 

  • Fear of the abuser due to threats and ongoing violence
  • Custody issues, shared finances or financial instability 
  • Living arrangements
  • Judgment/disbelief/blame from friends, family, or community members

Across Texas in 2020, the largest share of family violence incidents reported to the police occurred between the victim and an offender marked as an “other family member,” which can include aunts, uncles, or cousins. The second most common type of relationship was spousal, which impacts not only the spouse suffering abuse but children in the household as well. A boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult and a girl is six times more likely to be sexually abused compared to a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.15 

However, the information being collected depends on the person collecting the data and their interaction with the individual making the report. For example, for this data set, information is collected by local law enforcement and then reported up to the Texas Department of Public Safety for analysis and publishing. 

If an individual does not feel comfortable disclosing certain details about themselves, how they identify, and/or their relationship with the abuser to police, then the information reported is not completely accurate. In other instances, how the individual identifies or how the relationship is defined may not be a specific option that is collected on a form so those instances could fall under a broad “Other Family Member” category.

This data set shows that in 2020 across Texas there were 261 reported incidents of family violence where the individuals involved were in a same-sex relationship. However, this does not mean that domestic violence in same-sex relationships is less prevalent than in heterosexual relationships. In fact, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that within the LGBTQ+ community, intimate partner violence occurs at a rate equal to or even higher than that of the heterosexual community and that transgender individuals may suffer from an even greater burden of intimate partner violence than gay or lesbian individuals.

Domestic violence in the LGBTQ+ population is likely to be underreported due to unique barriers faced such as the dangers associated with “outing” oneself, potential homophobia from police and/or service providers, or the lack of, or survivors being unaware of, LGBTQ+-friendly assistance resources.

A boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult.

Nearly three-quarters of reported incidents of family violence had a female victim

It is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the U.S. experience severe intimate partner physical violence, contact sexual violence, and/or stalking.16

In Texas in 2020, there were over twice as many family violence incidents reported where women or girls were the victim than incidents where men or boys were the victim. However, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that there are likely many more men who do not report or seek help for their abuse due to many barriers including men being socialized not to express their feelings or see themselves as victims, pervading beliefs or stereotypes about men being abusers and women being victims, the abuse of men often being treated as less serious or a joke, and the belief that there are no resources or support available for male victims.

A disproportionate number of reported family violence incidents are for Black and white Texans

In 2020, the percentage of reported family violence cases for Black and white Texans was higher than those demographics percentages of the population across the state. White Texans in particular comprised 50% of all reported family violence cases. Black Texans make up about 12% of the population but compromise 21% of reported family violence incidents.

However, these numbers are not a perfect representation of family violence as they only represent incidents that are reported to authorities and certain populations are less likely to report.

In the United States, limited English proficiency is one of the obstacles individuals can face when reporting domestic violence. While all survivors and victims of domestic violence can encounter difficulties when reporting abuse, according to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, those with limited English proficiency face additional challenges such as: being seen as uneducated, helpless, or resistant to acculturation or learning English; not being provided adequate language services; and/or an abuser who speaks English deliberately misrepresenting or falsifying facts to first responders or law enforcement claiming that they were assaulted leading to the arrest of the real victim.

Moreover, across Houston’s immigrant communities, victims face barriers related to language access, cultural taboos, immigration status, cultural mismatches with mainstream agencies, violence from extended family systems, and a lack of knowledge of their legal rights and protective options. As a result, domestic and sexual violence is underreported and underestimated in these communities.

Along with language barriers, culture can also impact an individual’s likelihood of seeking assistance when experiencing abuse from someone they have a personal relationship with. The Urban Institute points to research shedding light on underreporting of domestic violence in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community which shows that deeply internalized patriarchal values could contribute to minimization and underreporting and cultural values of prioritizing family and community over individuals can lead this population avoiding talking about their domestic violence experiences. One study shows that one of the most common barriers to reporting violence Asian American and Pacific Islander women cite is fear of bringing shame on their family.

Additionally, the Women of Color Network reports within the context of a particular community of color, common factors and considerations exist which may account for underreporting of domestic violence by women of color. They include:

  • Cultural norms and/or religious beliefs that restrain the survivor from leaving the abusive relationship or involving outsiders.
  • Distrust of law enforcement, criminal justice systems, and social services.
  • Lack of service providers that look like the survivor or share common experiences.
  • Lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
  • Lack of trust based on the history of racism and classism in the United States.
  • Fear that these experiences will reflect on, or confirm, the stereotypes placed on their ethnicity.
  • Attitudes and stereotypes about the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in communities of color.
  • Legal status in the US of the survivor and/or the batterer.
  • Oppression, including re-victimization, is intensified at the intersections of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, legal status, age and socioeconomic status.

“By fleeing, a survivor ends a cycle of violence. As survivors take this dangerous and difficult step, we must demand societal norms that uphold equality, respect, and safety in all relationships, in good times and bad. This should not be an idealistic goal, it should be the bare minimum.”

Rachna Khare, Executive Director for Daya Houston


If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, several resources are available to assist and answer any questions you may have, including but not limited to.

Get involved

One of the biggest barriers survivors face to reporting, leaving, or recovering from an abusive relationship is the lack of means to support themselves and/or their children financially or lack of access to cash, bank accounts, or assets. Safe, secure, and affordable housing remains a critical need in order for survivors to flee. As we work to end domestic violence, it is imperative that housing programs and nonprofit organizations that serve survivors have access to flexible funds. 

Consider donating to, or volunteering with, any one of these organizations who provide housing, financial assistance, legal representation, counseling, advocacy and a number of other services to domestic violence survivors in our community.

“Getting rental assistance has been one of the most important parts of my life, and it was a turning point. When I first held my keys [to our new home], I cried tears of joy. It was life-saving. The kids were so excited to be able to say they finally had their own place. To this day, my youngest son who was eight years old has the exact date and time memorized for when we first moved into our apartment. If Daya had not helped me and my family with housing, I have no idea how my life would have turned out.”

Anonymous Survivor from Daya Houston

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more, the following organizations provide educational resources.


1 National Center for Injury Prevention. “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf

2 National Center for Injury Prevention. “Cost of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipvbook-a.pdf

3 National Center for Injury Prevention. “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Data Brief.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf

4 Rachel E. Morgan, Ph.D., and Barbara A. Oudekerk, Ph.D. “Criminal Victimization, 2018.” U.S. Department of Justice.

5 Center for Violence Prevention The University of Texas Medical Branch. “The Harris County Health and Relationship Study.” Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. https://www.hcdvcc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HCHR-Study-Brief-Report_March-21-1.pdf

6 Texas Council on Family Violence. “Domestic Violence High-Risk teams (DVHRTs): 2020 Statewide Data Report.” https://tcfv.org/wp-content/uploads/tcfv_dvhrt_statewide_data_rprt_2020.pdf

7 Center for Violence Prevention The University of Texas Medical Branch. “The Harris County Health and Relationship Study.” Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. https://www.hcdvcc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HCHR-Study-Brief-Report_March-21-1.pdf

8 Schneider, Daniel et al. “Intimate partner violence in the Great Recession.” Demography. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4860387/

9 Medel-Herrero, Alvaro et al. “The impact of the Great Recession on California domestic violence events, and related hospitalizations and emergency service visits.” Preventive Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315959/

10 Bhalotra, Sonia et al. “Domestic violence: the potential role of job loss and unemployment benefits.” The University of Warwick. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/centres/cage/manage/publications/bn34.2021.pdf

11 Gearhart, Sara et al. “The Impact of Natural Disasters on Domestic Violence: An Analysis of Reports of Simple Assault in Florida (1999-2007).” Violence and Gender. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/vio.2017.0077

12 First, Jennifer et al. “Intimate Partner Violence and Disasters: A Framework for Empowering Women Experiencing Violence in Disaster Settings.” Journal of Women and Social Work. https://nnedv.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/First-2017-Intimate-partner-violence-and-disasters_-A-framework-for-empo….pdf

13 Campbell, Jacquelyn et al. “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study.” American Journal of Public Health. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.93.7.1089

14 Saltzman, Linda et al. “Weapon Involvement and Injury Outcomes in Family and Intimate Assaults.” Journal of American Medical Association. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/397728

15 Vargas, L. Cataldo, J., Dickson, S. (2005). Domestic Violence and Children . In G.R. Walz & R.K. Yep (Eds.), VISTAS: Compelling Perspectives on Counseling. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association; 67-69.

16 Jennifer L. Truman, Ph.D. and Rachel E. Morgan Ph.D., “Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003-2012.” U.S. Department of Justice. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/ndv0312.pdf

Published by Chelsea Cheung

Sr. Data and Learning Analyst

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