Capital Region

Editorial: Strengthen domestic abuse protections

Children who witness domestic violence suffer many of the same consequences as if they’d been victims themselves

Here’s something to ponder while we’re waiting for the state Legislature to pass meaningful legislation to protect women from domestic abuse:

  • One out of every four women in the United States will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million people each year, the CDC reports.
  • Intimate-partner homicides increased 22 percent in 2016 over 2015, according to the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
  • There were more than 28,000 intimate partner assaults reported to police agencies outside of New York City in 2016, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, and nearly 17,500 such assaults within New York City.
  • The total number of orders of protection reported to the statewide Registry of Orders of Protection and Warrants reached a five-year high in 2016.

These statistics come from a new report, “A Safe Haven: Helping Abuse Victims and Enhancing Protections,” issued last week by the state Assembly Republican Task Force on Preventing Domestic Violence and demonstrate as much as anything why the state needs to strengthen its protections for these victims and their children.

In conducting five public forums throughout the state last year, the task force heard from survivors of domestic violence, as well as social workers, law enforcement officers, judges, district attorneys and other advocates in coming up with a series of recommendations for changes to state laws and court procedures.

Among the committee’s recommendations are passage of the Domestic Violence in the Presence of a Child bill (A8810). This would make it a felony to commit an act of domestic violence in the presence of children age 15 and under. 

Children who witness domestic violence suffer many of the same consequences as if they’d been victims themselves.

According to the Domestic Violence Roundtable, between 3 million and 4 million children between the ages of 3-17 are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year.

Those who witness a parent being abused (In 95 percent of cases, it’s the mother.), become fearful and anxious, never knowing when the next eruption of violence might come and never feeling safe or secure. Many kids also experience inadequacy when they’re unable to prevent violence against a parent or sibling. These issues often carry forth into adulthood.

According to the bill memo, 24 states have laws that boost penalties for domestic violence committed in the presence of children. New York should join them.

The report made several other recommendations, most of which could be accomplished through procedural changes in the way courts and law enforcement deal with domestic violence cases.

One such recommendation includes creating a more standardized warning and explanation procedure to ensure both victims and their abusers are aware of what an order of protection is and what it means to violate it.

The report also recommends allowing social workers and victim advocates to testify in court what they know about the impact of domestic violence on the children in an affected household. This would not only give the courts valuable adult perspective, but would alleviate the trauma of asking a child to directly testify in a domestic violence case.

Other legislation calls for more consistency in having the same judge handle a particular family’s court case. When judges are unfamiliar with a case, they sometimes are more lenient on the abuser than if they’d followed the circumstances longer, according to the report. Again, this can be a procedural change in the court system.

The report also recommends that the state education system develop a domestic violence curriculum to make all children aware of domestic abuse and how they can manage their emotions and deal with their family situations. 

There are also a number of other bills pending, not directly addressed in the report, that should be considered as part of an overall increase in the state’s efforts to fight domestic violence.

These include legislation to alert the public to convicted abusers through a registry (A0404); strengthening orders of protection through GPS monitoring (A2027/S3473); extending the time period for which orders of protection can be imposed (A1385/S1816); encouraging immigrants who are victims of domestic violence to come forward by prohibiting law enforcement from asking about their immigration status (A1225); and legislation proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove the firearms from individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors, including some assault and battery charges.

Domestic violence is an all-encompassing problem that needs to be addressed with numerous approaches.

The state Legislature could make a significant difference by changing state laws and court procedures to better protect adult victims and children.

Enhancing these protections should be a priority of this legislative session.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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