Time to Change the Laws to Better Protect Victims of Domestic Violence
Last year, the Assembly Minority Conference hosted a series of forums across the state to better understand the often complex problems associated with domestic violence. During these forums, victims, advocates, service providers, law enforcement, and court personnel provided valuable insights that illustrated how our laws can be improved. As a result, my colleagues and I have recently introduced a package of bills that, if enacted, would close gaps in current law and provide law enforcement with tools they need to ultimately better protect victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a widespread problem across the nation. The State Office of Court Administration reported that in 2016, the total number of orders of protection reported to the statewide registry of Orders of Protection and Warrants reached a five-year high. That same year, more than 28,000 assaults involving couples were reported to police agencies outside of New York City.
While these numbers tell one story, they do not begin to touch upon the true impact of domestic violence on victims or their families. Along with repeated physical and/or sexual abuse, a domestic partner may also try to gain power or control by isolating victims from family and friends, take total control over finances or not allow his or her partner to have a job. Because of the complex nature of the relationship, people are often hesitant to pursue legal action. However, once the decision has been made to involve the authorities, we want to ensure the laws are there to work for victims.
One bill in our package would create a harsher penalty for committing domestic violence in the presence of children. Under this proposal, if a person is found guilty of a domestic violence offense which occurred in the presence of a child 15 years of age or younger, the penalty would be a class E felony, which would be served consecutively to any sentence imposed for the underlying domestic violence offense. Experts say children who witness violence in the home are more likely to suffer as adults from addiction and other health problems and become victims or perpetrators of violence themselves. Our state should recognize this to protect children and provide law enforcement with the ability to impose a harsher penalty for this crime.
Another bill recently introduced would create a domestic violence crime. This is similar to the hate crime statute that currently exists in state law which elevates offenses by one penalty level. For example, if a person slaps or kicks a victim, this is currently classified as harassment in the second degree, which is only a violation, and the offender may only be ordered to pay a fine. By establishing a domestic violence crime, however, this same offense would be elevated to an unclassified misdemeanor which would enable police to make an arrest, take the perpetrator off premise, and provide the victim time to plan for safety.
During the forums, professionals expressed frustration with the state’s lack of mandatory reporting requirements for suspected domestic violence. Currently under the law, professionals such as teachers, daycare providers, and doctors are required to report suspected child abuse. The same professionals are not, however, required to report suspected domestic violence. Only hospitals are required to report suspected domestic abuse if specific injuries are treated. Accordingly, one bill in the package would require the same professionals who currently report suspected child abuse to also report suspected domestic violence.
Thankfully, there are resources available. In our area, we are fortunate to have excellent agencies in place that help victims. Vera House in Onondaga County manages a 24-hour crisis support hotline for people who may be in danger, need advice or access to resources. That number is (315) 468-3260. Oswego County residents may call OCO’s crisis hotline at (315) 342-1600. Jefferson County residents may call the Victim Assistance Center's 24-hour hotline at (315) 782-1855. For emergency help, dial 911 or call the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906. The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence tries to raise awareness about domestic violence. They provide information and often assist people with “the system” concerning police, courts, or departments of social services. Their website, which can be found at www.opdv.state.ny.us or reached at 1-866-704-2503, provides information and resources for those who seek help. It is critical we pass these laws as soon as possible to prevent more domestic violence. In addition, the state should also provide the necessary support and financial resources to those agencies that work to assist victims with housing and safety. The full report, “Helping Abuse Victims and Enhancing Protections” can be read here: http://bit.ly/2swKgfv.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (315) 598-5185.