April 13, 2017, SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Houston Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen – who has spent much of her career advocating for sexual assault survivors – will give the keynote address at the upcoming annual conference for advocates of sexual and domestic violence survivors. “Survivors deserve justice, and they deserve a system that treats them with respect and dignity,” Ms. Cohen said. “Unfortunately, too many survivors don’t have a voice in the system. That’s why participation in conferences like this is so critical – so that we are equipped to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”
The 17th annual Legal Alliance for Survivors of Abuse Cross-Training Conference will be held June 14-16 at the Omni Hotel in San Antonio, and registration for the event is now open through the Annual Conference page of this website.
“Having watched her accomplish so much for sexual assault survivors over the years, I feel like we couldn’t have had a better speaker for the conference,” said LASSA attorney Maricarmen Garza, who is organizing the event. “We hope that the conference is rewarding for her as well. In the people and programs attending the conference, she will be able to see the fruits of her labor.”
Mayor Pro Tem Cohen, who represents Houston’s District C as its councilwoman, worked for many years as the CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center. The 35-year-old center provides multiple levels of support for sexual and domestic violence survivors – a 24-hotline, counseling, and children’s court services, among others.
“Speaking out for survivors has always been a passion of mine,” Ms. Cohen said. “That’s why I served for nearly two decades as CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center. Advocating on behalf of survivors and their families has also been a priority for me in the Texas Legislature and at City Hall, whether it’s fighting for more dollars for services, or creating a dedicated Human Trafficking Division within the Houston Police Department.”
When she was a state representative, Ms. Cohen also authored legislation known as the Sexually Oriented Business Fee. The law, which has survived legal challenges since it was first passed in 2007, turns over revenue from a $5 per patron fee at strip clubs to sexual and domestic violence survivor programs, providing them with a vital source of stable funding.
“Advocates, attorneys, and communities across Texas are indebted to Ellen Cohen for her vision and tenacious advocacy,” said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA). “It’s thanks to her that today, 10 years after its inception, the Sexually Oriented Business Fee serves as a sustained funding stream for sexual assault programs and civil legal services for survivors.”
A breast cancer survivor, Mayor Pro Tem Cohen began a career focused on advocacy by organizing a network of cancer support groups. After moving to Houston in 1977 with her family, she served for 10 years as the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. In 2006, she was elected as state representative for District 134. After serving two terms in the state legislature, Ms. Cohen ran for Houston City Council and was sworn into office in January 2012.
As a council member, Ms. Cohen worked to bring about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and the elimination of the backlog of over 6,000 untested sexual assault kits.