Assemblywoman Jenne: Domestic Violence Legislative Package Protects Victims

May 12, 2017
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, announced the Assembly passed legislation this week to provide better assistance, protection and justice for victims of domestic violence.

“It can be incredibly difficult for victims of domestic violence to come forward,” Assemblywoman Jenne said. “We need to create a culture that encourages victims to speak up and seek help and that helps them when they do. This legislation is a major step forward and helps make sure that the women, men and children suffering from domestic violence get the help they need.”

Despite being chronically underreported, over 10 million women and men are victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner each year, Assemblywoman Jenne noted. Survivors and their loved ones often deal with trauma years after the abuse has stopped. The Assembly legislative package seeks to meet the urgent needs of those affected and ensure everyone who seeks help can get it.

Renewal House in St. Lawrence County served 814 domestic violence victims in 2016 and provided safe housing to 63 individuals with an average length of stay of 20 days. Renewal House Executive Director Ilene J. Burke said the number of victims served by the agency served 765 victims in 2013, 698 victims in 2014 and 645 victims in 2015.

The agency, which also serves victims of sexual assault, said Renewal House served 1,036 individuals in 2016.

Renewal House assisted 222 victims of sexual assault in 2016, the highest number in the past four years. The agency served 195 sexual assault victims in 2015, 201 victims in 2014 and 218 victims in 2013.

Jill Parker, executive director of the Victims Assistance Center in Jefferson County, said her agency provided 765 domestic violence shelter nights in 2016.

She said her agency handled 290 hotline calls last year and handled 2,475 new cases in 2016. She said those cases included domestic violence, sexual assault and other acts of violence. The Victims Assistance Center served 4,169 individuals in 2016. Ms. Parker said her agency's response team advocates responded with law enforcement to 2,296 situations involving domestic violence calls last year.

To prevent workplace discrimination and help victims distance themselves from their abusers, the legislative package:

  • Prevents employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence as well as allow these employees reasonable accommodations in the workplace as they address issues, such as counseling or court appearances, related to their abuse (A.1481-A).
  • Enacts the Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act, which prevents certain perpetrators of domestic violence from owning a firearm (A.5025).
  • Requires convicted abusers to surrender their firearms, closing a potentially deadly loophole in state penal law (A.980). The legislation would tie state law to federal law.
  • Allows victims of domestic violence to break a telephone, cable or broadband contract, as well as a shared or family plan wireless contract, without penalty (A.1056, A.946);
  • Requires health insurers to provide victims of domestic violence the ability to have claim information and benefits sent to an alternative mailing address (A.4060); and
  • Codifies requirements for hospitals to establish procedures regarding domestic violence and ongoing training programs for staff, and to designate a hospital staff member to coordinate services for victims (A.4014).

The legislation includes a measure allowing judges expanded discretion in sentencing defendants who are victims of domestic violence where the abuse was a significant factor in the commission of an offense (A.3110).

These victims would be able to seek lesser sentences, alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) programs and apply for resentencing if they are already serving their sentence. A three-part criterion will be used to determine eligibility based on whether the domestic violence was occurring at the time of the offense, if it was a contributing factor or if a sentence under existing law would be excessive.

Assemblywoman Jenne also co-sponsored legislation to increase the statute of limitations for crimes of domestic violence in civil court proceedings from one to two years (A.1516).

The Assembly’s legislation would also:

  • Ensure victims of domestic violence understand their rights during criminal and family court proceedings by simplifying the language in court documents (A.5921); and
  • Allow victims of domestic violence to receive economic and non-economic damages from any or all defendants found liable in civil court (A.1390).

“The stories I hear from advocates for domestic violence victims are heartbreaking. We cannot continue to revictimize survivors of domestic violence by punishing them for crimes that were committed against them,” according to Assemblywoman Jenne, who spoke at the Take Back the Night event at Jefferson Community College two weeks ago. “We need to make sure that they don’t face discrimination as they work to regain control of their lives.”

Help and support are always available. Renewal House in Canton operates a 24-hour a day crisis hotline at 315-379-9845. The Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County operates a 24-hour crisis and support hotline at 315-782-1855.

New York’s toll-free hotline is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-942-6906. For additional information, visit the New York State Office of Victim Services’ website at ovs.ny.gov or the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence website at opdv.ny.gov.