HOUSTON – Family violence incidents are being reported at an alarming rate in the Houston area.
On Nov. 16, a 25-year-old man was arrested and charged after Harris County sheriff’s deputies said he sexually assaulted a younger relative and killed her mother and grandmother. Deputies said the suspect surrendered at the scene and was found with a knife and gun, but he has also been accused of criminal mischief and trespassing at the home in the past.
KPRC 2 reporter Corley Peel spoke with a psychologist Thursday and broke down the mental and emotional effects these violent situations can have on children and families.
Family violence cases involving children
When it comes to family violence situations, Staci Passe, Psy.D., says children can experience long-term effects.
“My guess is that she has been traumatized even before this incident occurred,” Passe said. “Oftentimes with children and domestically violent families, we see what’s called ‘complex trauma,’ and so that’s a series of traumatic events that are often interrelated and kind of compound the trauma response she would have if it were just one significant event.”
Passe continued, saying, “So the fact that she was the one that called police, that she was the one that (was) sexually abused, and she was likely a witness to much of this violence, not only now, but previously, she is positioned to have a really, really difficult time in terms of her physiological response to stress, brain development, psychiatric issues, a myriad of factors to consider when we talk about a child in this situation.”
According to Passe, the key to combatting these issues is early intervention.
“There’s hope that perhaps she was already plugged into services. If not, then she needs imminent and effective care, so that would be getting in with a really good trauma therapist and getting the support that she needs to not only address this trauma but also the grief that’s associated with losing these family members that she has,” Passe explained. “What we know about patterns of abuse and violence is that it’s not usually just a single event. It’s compounded over a sequence of time. And so for them to witness and experience the volatility and aggression over and over, then that puts them in a position that is likely difficult to overcome.”
What does family violence look like?
Family violence and abuse involve violent acts or any acts of aggression committed among members of a family.
“Domestic violence is not just partner-to-partner violence, and so it really consists of any act of aggression within the family unit or people that even cohabitate together,” Passe said. “When there’s a child involved, we think of it in terms of child abuse but domestic violence could look like coercive threats, it can look like physical violence, it could look like power issues and stalking behaviors, so it’s really this larger umbrella of violence that we see that’s not just related to a mom and a dad or boyfriend and a boyfriend. There’s much more to consider.”
Family violence incidents during the holiday season
Passe acknowledged that there are patterns of when family violence incidents are reported, however, she urged families to consider other factors that may contribute to abusive behaviors.
“Some of those patterns include summertime and holidays, largely because that’s when families are together, and times of where there is effort put into reunification if there is estrangement,” Passe said. “So if children are involved, of course, the holidays, parents want and families want to rally around the kids and get together, which heightens the increase of domestic violence, but to just say that these holidays are the peak times would be to underestimate the other patterns of domestic violence that don’t include explicit physical violence, so the power issues, the control issues, those seem to be most constant in duration and they don’t necessarily peak at the times of the physical violence that we’re seeing.”
Repeat offenders and family violence
Passe also discussed the role repeat criminal offenders sometimes play in family violence situations.
“That’s why it’s important to report and get protection and safety plans in place right away because what we know about domestic violence is that as the number of incidents increases, so does the risk of harm, and so what might look like just a power and control issue in the beginning often escalates into physical violence and unfortunately in this case, death and homicide,” Passe said.
Resources in the Houston area
While lawmakers are working hard to implement policies that protect people from violent offenders, there are effective resources in the Houston area to help mitigate some of these issues. Some resources Passe named included:
- Houston-Area Women’s Center: The center does a lot of work with domestic violence victims, specifically women and children.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Some other resources include:
Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council: This organization has a mission to improve Harris County’s response to domestic violence by leading efforts to build collaborative systems and innovative programs that increase access to services and safety.
Fort Bend County Women’s Center: The center is a primary provider of assistance services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Fort Bend County.
Familytime Crisis & Counseling Center: The center’s goal is to provide services and programs to encourage the mental health and wellness of the community as well as promote safety and support for the prevention of domestic and sexual violence.
“To report these issues as soon as they occur, even in the way of power and control, are necessary so that it doesn’t escalate into something more significant,” Passe said.
Addressing sexual assaults in families
When it comes to sexual assault and violence in families, Passe said in cases involving children, victims are oftentimes sexually abused by someone that they know and trust.
“That makes it that much easier for the perpetrator to gain access to the child, so the fact that this was a family member, unfortunately, is more of the norm than the exception,” Passe said.
KPRC 2 released the following features in our “Breaking Free,” series, which highlights resources to those suffering from domestic violence and abuse.