Our History

Imagine a world without violence

Prior to 1980, a battered woman in Houston had little access to information on legal rights or to the services of an attorney. In response, the National Council of Jewish Women—Greater Houston Section founded AVDA to serve as an adjunct to local women’s centers and as a resource for the thousands of battered women in need of legal advocacy. AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Project began with an all-volunteer staff in a space donated by Gulf Coast Legal Foundation. Recognizing that batterers must also receive rehabilitative services to end their abuse, AVDA added the Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) in 1984, which became the first in the state to become fully accredited

In 1982, AVDA began to professionalize its staff by hiring a contract attorney to represent abuse victims who fell through the cracks of available services in family-law litigation, contracting additional attorneys over the years. In 2005, AVDA reorganized the Legal Advocacy Program, abandoning its traditional contract-attorney model for a staff-attorney model. Case acceptance decisions could then be made within 24 hours and community emergency legal capacity was greatly improved. By the end of 2005, AVDA had four full-time staff attorneys—the organization now employs nine attorney-paralegal teams, including one dedicated to the “working poor,” which are victims who (1) earn too much for government legal aid but not enough for a private lawyer AND (2) are at high-risk of fatality violence. In late 2017, AVDA began providing free legal aid for abuse victims living in Fort Bend County with an office at The United Way of Greater Houston – Fort Bend County Center. Two years later, residents of Austin, Grimes, Waller and Washington counties began having access to AVDA’s legal services through an office at Focusing Families in Hempstead.

In 2014, a Counseling and Outreach Program was established through an anonymous donor, providing a Trauma Counselor to assist victims of domestic abuse, and a Youth and Outreach Specialist to provide community awareness and prevention. By early 2019, the Community Awareness and Prevention Program grew to a staff of four incorporating service staff trainings, youth abuse prevention programming (including Safe Dates and Coaching Boys into Men), communications, and outreach to adults.

Through advocacy, AVDA was instrumental in the formation of many of the legal institutions focused on DV survivors that we now take for granted. For example, in the first years of AVDA, volunteers from AVDA and the League of Women Voters interviewed family violence complainants in the District Attorney’s Community Intake Office. Legal Advocacy Project volunteers recommended charges, screened applicants for protective orders, and provided crisis counseling and social-services referrals. With the support of District Attorney Johnny Holmes, this pilot project evolved into the Family Criminal Law Division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in 1984.

AVDA assembled a bipartisan coalition of local and state law makers to enact legislation establishing Harris County’s first Domestic Violence Court. Led by Commissioner Steve Radack, Senator Rodney Ellis and Representatives Beverly Woolley and Senfronia Thompson, this coalition engineered the conversion of an existing state civil district court into a court designed to fast-track protective orders.

In 1996, AVDA’s leadership resulted in the formation of the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, to foster a coordinated community response across public and private sectors. In 2018, AVDA helped spearhead the city’s first Domestic Violence High Risk Team, coordinating with law enforcement and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.