AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Advocacy Project (TAP) has distributed more than 45,500 handbags to women across Texas since their Handbags for Hope campaign launched 13 years ago.
With the help and support of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and CommUnityCare Health Centers, TAP is again asking for more donations: handbags and diaper bags to fill with legal toolkits.
Texas Advocacy Project CEO Heather Bellino will speak in front of former clients and domestic violence survivors, some of whose lives were impacted by the program, at the CommUnityCare Health Center in north Austin Wednesday morning.
Hailey Solis, who is from San Marcos, is one of those survivors. TAP provided Solis with legal service and helped get her abuser out of school and away from her.
“It all started in eighth grade whenever a boy in my school wanted to ask me out, ” Solis shared. “I ended up saying no and from there on the abuse started. He was fine with it the first few times but after repeating it several times… he would end up threatening me and my family.”
The abuser tried to isolate Solis from her friends and family and she “hid it for a very long time.”
“I had my hair covering my face all the time,” Solis said.
A friend noticed one day after she slid her hair to the side accidentally. Even though the police got involved, the abuser still showed up. Solis then resorted to hurting herself and ended up in a hospital.
Her counselor didn’t want to see her hurt herself anymore so they called TAP.
“I never saw him again after that,” Solis said. “When Texas Advocacy Project helped me out, it made me feel a lot safer. I stopped doing what I was doing to hurt myself. I was coming to be normal again. I was able to eat again, to sleep again. I just felt a lot safer where I was at.”
“If I was able to get one of the handbags, I probably would have called myself instead of having my friends call,” Solis said. “The number being provided is very good just because they helped out a lot.”
“A woman’s handbag represents something deeply private to its owner − a kind of survival kit for life in a modern world. For those experiencing power-based abuse, it may also serve as a life-saving utility,” TAP said in their press release.
In 2019, TAP served over 4700 clients, impacting the lives of over 10,000 women and their children. That same year, the agency distributed the bags to hospitals for the first time, making them available to survivors of rape.
After a survivor goes through a rape exam they often have to leave behind clothing and belongings, which TAP describes as “an extremely dehumanizing experience.” They believe if a survivor leaves the hospital with their belongings in a handbag versus a plastic bag, it “not only gives some dignity back, it also gives hope through the agency’s free services.”
The 2020 campaign runs through April 10. The goal is “providing solutions to lead those experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault to safety and free legal services.”
Each bag is fitted with:
- A discreet tag that lists TAP’s toll-free legal line 1-800-374-HOPE
- Safety planning information
- Allstate foundation’s financial empowerment planning guide
Their 2020 collaboration with CommUnityCare Health Centers reaches out to at-risk moms-to-be, as TAP states in their press release, “Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence.” They will distribute diaper bags containing the same legal toolkits as well as provide a training series. The series is meant to give providers the tools to effectively engage with pregnant women and new mothers. Topics include personal safety and health concerns presented by domestic violence.
When victims call our legal line it is often the first time they have ever spoken with an attorney to learn that they have rights and that they can get protection and safety. It is a life-altering moment. Handbags for Hope arms them with one of the strongest tools to break the cycle of violence – access to legal services.TAP CEO Heather Bellino said in their press release
Over 9000 handbags were donated last year, per TAP. There are locations around Austin to donate. Learn more on their website.