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The Anti-SLAPP Defense For Survivors Of Domestic Abuse

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Chelsea Casiano Editor-in-Chief (2018 – 2019)

Dealing with an abusive partner can be both physically and emotionally overwhelming. Those who find a way to escape such a negative situation are often threatened with not only more abuse, but in some cases, legal action. It is not uncommon for a manipulative abuser to try and stop the survivor from sharing their story with law enforcement or other interested parties by filing an unnecessary defamation lawsuit. Defamation refers to words, both spoken and written, that hurt an individual’s reputation.¹

After escaping an abusive situation, the last thing an individual wants to worry about is a lawsuit. Further, because escaping often involves the survivor sneaking out with nothing more than the clothes on their back and the cash in their pocket, the idea of hiring a lawyer seems out of reach.

However, there is hope if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation. On June 17, 2011, Governor Rick Perry signed the Texas Citizens Participation Act into law.² This law, usually referred to as the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute, gives a judge the ability to dismiss a needless lawsuit when it is meant to silence someone exercising their Constitutional right to free speech when that speech is in connection with a matter of public concern.³ The legislation defines a matter of public concern as an issue related to: (A) health and safety; (B) environmental, economic, or community well-being; (C) the government; (D) a public official or public figure; or (E) a good, product, or service in the marketplace.⁴ Because abuse affects both health and safety and community well-being, if an abuser tries to use a defamation suit to prevent the survivor from speaking up, the Anti-SLAPP defense applies.

There is also another ray of hope for the survivor. If they are able to successfully defend against the defamation claim using the Anti-SLAPP statute as a defense, their attorney’s fees will be billed to the other party.⁵ This means that a survivor will not only be able to defend themselves in court with the assistance of counsel, but they do not have to come out of pocket for their attorney if they succeed.

Domestic violence is all too familiar for many Texans, but thankfully, the Lone Star State has recognized the need to help survivors. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Additionally, Texas Health and Human Services has a Family Violence Program that offers temporary 24-hour shelter, a 24-hour hotline, and legal advocacy.⁶

 

Sources ¹ Defamation Law Made Simple, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/defamation-law-made-simple-29718.html (last visited April 12th, 2019). ² A Primer on the Texas Anti-SLAPP Statute, https://slappedintexas.com/primer/ (last visited April 12th, 2019). ³ Tex. Civ. Prac. Rem. Code § 27.002 (West 2019). Id. at § 27.001 Cruz v. Van Sickle, 452 S.W.3d 503 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, pet. denied). ⁶ Family Violence Program, https://hhs.texas.gov/services/safety/family-violence-program (last visited April 12th, 2019).

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