Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez: Nobody Should Live in Fear in Their Own Home

Assembly legislation helps victims of domestic violence take back their lives

Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez (D-Bronx) announced that she passed legislation to help protect and empower victims of domestic violence by ensuring they have the resources necessary to put their health and safety first and hold their abusers accountable.

“Victims of domestic violence go through unspeakable trauma at the hands of someone close to them,” Assemblywoman Fernandez said. “And the unfortunate reality is that domestic violence incidents are severely underreported, which is why we have to do everything we can to make New York a place for victims to feel safe enough to come forward. They need to be supported every step of the way so they can break away from their abusers, regain their lives and begin healing.”

In the United States, more than 10 million women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner each year, and more than 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide every day.[1] These are just the cases that are reported. In fact, a United Nations report found that the most dangerous place for a woman is her home.[2] Victims are in the most danger if they attempt to leave or after they have escaped,[3] which is why the Assembly’s legislation is crucial – to provide victims with the avenues to leave an abusive situation, Assemblywoman Fernandez noted.

Helping victims distance themselves from abusers

Victims of domestic violence are often asked why they didn’t get away from the situation, but many times, barriers stand in the way. The abuser sometimes controls the victim’s finances or has cut them off from resources, family, friends and a support network that would help them.[4] And unfortunately, children are all too often also involved, which can make it even more difficult to break away. In fact, an estimated 4.5 million to 15 million children are exposed to physical violence in their home each year.[5]

“It’s not as simple as telling someone to just leave,” Assemblywoman Fernandez said. “From their bank account, to their car and cellphone, abusers often control every aspect of their lives. We can help victims break free and protect children by ensuring they’re not forced to stay in a dangerous situation due to contracts and leases.”

The Assembly’s legislation includes a measure streamlining the procedure for early lease termination by victims of domestic violence, allowing them to exercise this provision when necessary to ensure their physical safety and long-term financial security (A.4267). The bill also prohibits landlords from disclosing the termination of tenancy to future landlords and imposes penalties for violations.

Additionally, the legislative package helps victims achieve financial independence by prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence (A.5618). The bill requires employers to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for employees to attend court appearances and seek critical services such as counseling or medical treatment related to their abuse. A victim’s experience shouldn’t play a factor in the workplace, nor should employers stand in the way of them achieving success and beginning to heal, Assemblywoman Fernandez noted.

To further help victims distance themselves from their abusers, the legislative package:

  • allows victims of domestic violence to cancel telephone or cable contracts without incurring cancellation fees (A.5318);
  • allows victims to vote by special ballot by mail (A.219-A);
  • requires hospitals to establish policies and procedures regarding identifying and notifying domestic violence victims of available services (A.2850-A); and
  • requires health insurers to provide victims of domestic violence with the option to have claim information and benefits sent to an alternative mailing address (A.2832).

Allowing more survivors to seek justice

“One of the most crucial steps in assuring the safety of survivors is to hold abusers accountable for their despicable actions,” Assemblywoman Fernandez said. “It’s a big step that takes immeasurable strength for victims to face their abusers in the courtroom. Our laws should provide support throughout the process so they can move forward with their lives.”

To do this, the legislation allows victims of domestic violence to receive damages for economic and non-economic losses from all defendants found liable in civil court (A.5614).

Further, the package includes measures to:

  • increase the statute of limitations for a civil action to recover damages for injuries arising from domestic violence from one to two years (A.1945); and
  • ensure victims of domestic violence understand their legal rights and access to services during criminal and family court proceedings by simplifying the language in the notification of rights disseminated by law enforcement and district attorneys (A.7395).

The Assembly’s legislation also expands the definition in the Social Services Law of “victim of domestic violence” to include victims of identity theft, grand larceny and coercion, and assures that they are eligible for certain victim services (A.5608). Domestic abuse can take many forms, including psychological violence that can have long-lasting and devastating consequences for the victim, and it’s important that we recognize these circumstances, Assemblywoman Fernandez noted.

Standing up for domestic violence victims

Earlier this year, the Assembly took the crucial step of once again passing the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, giving judges greater discretion when sentencing defendants who are victims of domestic violence when their abuse was a significant contributing factor in their offense (Ch. 31 of 2019). Assemblywoman Fernandez noted that a justice system that criminalizes domestic violence survivors is far from just. These measures also build on the Assembly’s successful efforts last year to make the Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act law, prohibiting an individual who has been convicted of a domestic violence crime from purchasing or possessing a firearm (Ch. 60 of 2018).

The Assembly also expects to take up a bill in the coming weeks to require that direct care employees in domestic violence shelters and programs and safe dwellings receive training in adverse childhood experiences so they are better prepared to provide support in these cases (A.4268).

Help and support are always available, Assemblywoman Fernandez noted. 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. Locally, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 621-4673.

[1] ncadv.org/statistics

[2] unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/GSH2018/GSH18_Gender-related_killing_of_women_and_girls.pdf

[3] stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/barriers-to-leaving-an-abusive-relationship

[4] Ibid.

[5] usatoday.com/story/news/health/2019/01/29/domestic-violence-research-children-abuse-mental-health-learning-aces/2227218002