NY State Needs Comprehensive, Compassionate Response to Domestic Violence
gs many brave survivors came forward with their stories, and prevention advocates, law enforcement officials, judges and service providers imparted their wisdom. Using this information we developed proposed policy changes aimed at protecting lives, supporting survivors and helping to prevent domestic violence from happening in New York homes in the first place. Their invaluable testimony has helped us better understand the complex scope of this pervasive problem.
While listening, we learned that New York was behind the times in what it could do to help. Our law enforcement and district attorneys are hindered by the law in their efforts to protect some of our most vulnerable facing domestic violence. Those attempting to flee violence in their own homes and relationships are faced with limited, safe emergency housing for themselves and possibly their children. Leaving an abuser is a financially prohibitive endeavor as many are faced with having to choose between legal counsel or paying shelter fees.
Not-for-profit service providers expressed difficulties in coordinating their services for victims. Every services provider and advocate wants to maximize the available funds for domestic violence victim care to help more in need. It breaks their heart when they are unable to help more women and children. Their work is truly a labor of love.
According to The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), twelve million people suffer from intimate partner abuse across the country each year. The CDC estimates that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some point during their life. The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence reports that intimate partner homicide spiked 22 percent in 2016 over the previous year. These statistics are alarming and should compel all of us, especially the legislature, to act.
During the same period that we saw a 22 percent increase in intimate partner homicide, we saw a 45 percent increase in unmet social service delivery. Cases of domestic violence spiked in our state, but haven’t improved how the state delivers critical social services that empower and protect victims. Expanding these services, particularly supportive housing, should be a bipartisan budget priority in both houses this year.
Here are several other policies my conference and I will propose as new legislation and throughout ongoing budget talks:
- Remove income caps that prevent the working poor from qualifying for state assistance, which defrays the cost of their stay in temporary housing. Allowing victims to continue working places them in a stronger economic position that will ease their transition out of the shelter setting.
- Establish a fund to help victims retain legal counsel. Too many victims must choose between paying to stay in supportive housing or hire a lawyer.
- Provide housing subsidies for women transitioning from supportive housing.
- Provide personal needs allowances for victims staying in shelters, similar to the personal needs allowances allocated to patients in mental health facilities.
- Make it easier for police officers to arrest domestic abusers by ensuring that slapping, punching and other obvious forms of physical abuse clear the “physical injury” threshold for an arrest.
- Enhance penalties against domestic abusers who commit crimes in front of children.
- Provide funding to train law enforcement officials, state and private service providers, judges and other court officials to collaborate more efficiently.
Our response must be comprehensive and compassionate. I am thankful for the many partners who helped shine light on this difficult topic. The more we are able to talk about domestic violence, the more we are able to be allies to those currently facing crisis and those who have just began setting themselves free.