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185 Texans, Most Of Them Women, Were Killed By An Intimate Partner in 2019. Then Came The Pandemic.

Keren Carrión

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can find help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

In its annual accounting of lives lost to intimate partner violence, The Texas Council on Family Violence detailed the deaths of 185 people across 62 counties. The youngest killed last year was a 15-year-old girl from Spring who was shot by her boyfriend. The oldest was a 93-year-old Coppell man whose wife shot and killed him and then herself.

“Some victims may have histories of violence perpetration, recognizing that these homicides also represent the devastating impact of domestic violence,” the report says. “Additionally, the report documents intimate partner homicides with no known previous domestic violence and commonly categorized as mercy killings, believing that a violent death represents the ultimate act of domestic violence.”

Advocates say strangulation was a common precursor to the homicides, and that many women were killed after they left their abuser or as they planned to leave.

The 185 deaths in 2019 is a decrease from 2018, when 211 people were killed by intimate partners or stalkers. But the council does not expect a downward trend to continue. Domestic violence agencies saw a surge in violence that coincided with the arrival of the pandemic this spring.

The annual compiling of details about intimate partner homicides is meant to honor the victims, and is used by domestic violence agencies, crisis services providers and law enforcement to better understand the scourge of domestic violence. Among the findings:

  • 151 women and 34 men were killed, 98% by an opposite-sex partner.

  • Guns are an increasingly common factor; nearly two-thirds of the victims were killed with a firearm last year.

  • About four out of five victims (81%) were women killed by husbands, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends or casual male partners.

  • The vast majority of the homicides occurred at home

The council also points to common risk factors seen across many of the cases.

Strangulation remains a major red flag because it is a leading indicator of escalating violence that may end in homicide, said Mikisha Hooper, the report’s author, during an online forum discussing the findings last week. In 43% of the cases last year where a woman was killed by a male abuser or stalker, he had previously strangled or choked her at least once over the previous year.

In more than a third of the cases (35%), a victim had either left their abusive partner, tried to leave or was planning to leave when they were killed.

“We have to continue countering the message that simply leaving is the answer to escaping an abusive relationship, because it’s actually the most dangerous time for victims,” Mikisha Hooper said.

The way that racism compounds domestic violence was also highlighted during the forum discussing the research.

Carvana Cloud, a former prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney’s Special Victims Bureau, said a history of oppression as well as implicit and explicit bias experienced by Black people shapes how Black survivors perceive and react to domestic violence. Cloud launched a non-profit this year aimed at helping survivors of color in Houston called The Empowered Survivor.

Black woman are also more likely to be convicted for killing their abuser, Cloud points out. Black women face higher levels of domestic violence than women of any other race, yet they are less likely to seek out services or police help. Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death for Black women age 15 to 35.

“Research also shows that Black women often remain in volatile relationships longer than abused women of other races because African-American women just don’t feel safe integrating with some of the systems designated to help abused victims, such as the police or even women’s shelters,” Cloud said. “And that Black women hesitate to seek help sometimes because they believe shelters are for white women.”

Gloria Aguilera Terry, who heads the Texas Council on Family Violence, said the intersection of race and economic instability amplifies the vulnerability to violence.

The deaths described in the council’s report underline a greater need across Texas. Every year, “over 200,000 calls are made to law enforcement because home is not safe,” she said, “and every year, we know over 71,000 [people who are] primarily women and children receive services because home is not safe.”

Those statistics are likely an undercount. Experts agree that only a portion of domestic violence is ever reported.

“We also know, from a statewide perspective, that 48% of requests for emergency shelter go unmet due to capacity,” Terry said.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Christopher Connelly is a KERA reporter based in Fort Worth. Christopher joined KERA after a year and a half covering the Maryland legislature for WYPR, the NPR member station in Baltimore. Before that, he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow at NPR – one of three post-graduates who spend a year working as a reporter, show producer and digital producer at network HQ in Washington, D.C.