A Step Forward for Texas Survivor Protection Laws

On Sep 1, 2017, the State of Texas took a leap forward to catch up to the thirty nine other states with enhanced state-level survivor privacy laws. Authored by Rep. Abel Herrero, H.B. 3649 boosted previously lacking legal protections for private conversations between domestic violence victims and their family violence advocates. Before this law, batterers or others who sought to obtain private records and intimate details the survivor had shared with counsellors, care centers, or advocates, could do so with a simple court subpoena. A subpoena would require the survivor’s representation to send all intimate details, documents, and written/oral communication about the survivor’s story. For this reason, advocates and counsellors try to document as little as possible in survivors’ files which made them considerably less useful and therefore less productive.

Without feeling like they have a safe space to share these personal details, the therapeutic process is critically threatened. This new law seeks to combat the harsh realities of the court process which put survivor in re-traumatizing situations. Under the privilege law, if an unjust subpoena is issued, attorneys can respond by filing a motion to quash which asks that the judge annul the request The Chapter 93 addition to the Texas Family Code makes family violence survivors’ confidentiality a priority and ensures that they can tell their stories without fear they will be used against them. Like any law, there exist exceptions. In certain criminal or civil proceedings, a family violence center or advocate is required to disclose the confidential information, but only after records are reviewed by a judge. This greatly diminishes the release of unnecessary personal information of the survivor to the hands of batterers.