Initiatives will keep domestic violence shelters open around the clock, establish electronic monitoring program for offenders and require prevention training for educators
New state laws approved by the General Assembly that assist victims of domestic violence, crackdown on offenders and increase public awareness of the epidemic take effect this week.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven), Senator Joe Crisco (D-Woodbridge), Senator Toni Harp (D-New Haven), Senator Ed Meyer (D-Guilford), Representative Michael Lawlor (D-East Haven) and Representative Patricia Widlitz (D-Guilford) held a news conference with Sandra Koorejian, executive director of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, to detail what changes are about to take place and how they will impact victims and offenders.
The General Assembly and Governor M. Jodi Rell approved a package of domestic violence-related bills and initiatives during the 2010 legislative session – some of which take effect on July 1.
The budget includes $1.75 million to allow Connecticut’s 18 domestic violence shelters to stay open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The state funding will help leverage $1 million in federal funding for the shelters.
Public Act 10-91 requires local and regional school boards – as part of the in-service training they must offer to certified employees – to include information on preventing teen dating violence and domestic violence.
Public Act 10-144 allows the Judicial Branch to establish a pilot program for electronic monitoring of family violence offenders, and requires the chief court administrator to apply for federal grants to fund the program.
“The fight against domestic violence is one that we all have a stake in,” Senator Looney said. “The epidemic affects thousands of women and children in Connecticut every year – and the recession has only exacerbated the problem. The new state initiatives will make a real difference and they starts with one basic assurance – no victim who shows up at a shelter looking for help will be turned away because the lights are out and the doors are locked.”
“We applaud the support of the General Assembly on these bills, and especially the work of the Connecticut Domestic Violence Task Force,” Ms. Koorejian said. “We are thrilled that these bills provide additional safety strategies and resources for victims as well as educational programs that can help reduce or prevent incidents of abuse.”
“In calendar year 2009, Domestic Violence Services (DVS) assisted over 7,600 victims on the hotline, in the shelter, in the courts and in group and individual counseling programs,” she continued. “We also provided education and prevention programs for over 5,400 professionals, students and interested citizens. In the last six months of 2009, DVS sheltered over twice the number of women and children as compared to the same period in 2008. The DVS shelter doesn’t have 24/7 on-site staffing. With the explosion in demand for shelter, we are so overextended that we look forward to the new funding that will enable us to have advocates on-site and available to the women and children anytime during the day or night.”
“The tragic circumstances surrounding any domestic violence incident are self-evident, with the potential to be instantly and dramatically compounded once extended family members, friends, and neighbors become aware of its presence and true nature,” Senator Crisco said. “In this manner the number of those who become victimized in each case rises exponentially, adding to the sense of urgency we felt to pass these laws this year.”
“The insidious nature of most domestic violence cases, in which family members maintain an outward appearance of normalcy and civility despite deep currents of unrest, demands the proactive, comprehensive approach we enacted this year,” Senator Harp said. “With these new laws it is our intention to reduce the number of domestic violence cases in Connecticut and help protect potential victims in three critical areas: crisis response and social services, education and prevention, and in law enforcement and judicial proceedings.”
“Domestic violence is still very much a crime that is cloaked in shame and secrecy. Social and financial pressures have a great influence on the reporting and disposition of domestic violence incidents,” Senator Meyer said. “Increased state funding for around-the-clock shelters, a tougher look at prior misconduct and electronic monitoring will give greater peace of mind to women and men everywhere. It lets them know that we take these crimes and their safety very seriously.”
“These changes in the law are much needed,” said Rep. Lawlor, who is co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “The good news is that attitudes throughout the criminal justice system are changing and frontline professionals understand the urgency of preventing tragedy.”
“It is important that we implement these changes so that we can move our state forward in addressing these horrific crimes, recognizing that they have wide-ranging impacts on all aspects of people’s lives,” Rep. Widlitz said. “I’m proud that the legislature acted to approve these changes, standing in support of victims and enhancing the tools available for frontline professionals in our state.’’
Other domestic violence initiatives that will take effect on October 1, 2010 include:
· Public Act 10-137 makes it easier for tenants who are victims of family violence to leave their dwellings. It allows the tenants to terminate their rental agreements and not be penalized for doing so if they give the landlord at least 30 days notice.
· Public Act 10-144 expands the persistent offender law for crimes involving assault, trespass, threatening, harassment and violation of a restraining or protective order by eliminating the limitation on the ‘look-back period’ and allowing the court to consider convictions for essentially the same crimes in other states.
Public Act 10-144 also requires employers to allow family violence victims to take paid or unpaid leave (including compensatory time, vacation time, personal days or other time off) during any calendar year in which the leave is reasonably necessary to:
- Seek medical care or counseling for physical or psychological injury or disability
- Obtain services from a victim services organization
- Relocate due to the family violence
- Participate in any civil or criminal proceeding related to or resulting from such family violence
According to the state Department of Public Safety, in 2008 there were over 20,000 incidents of domestic violence that resulted in arrest. Statistics show that women represent the vast majority of victims, but children are also affected. National reports indicate that 40% to 60% of men who abuse women also abuse their children, and fathers who batter are twice as likely as non-abusive fathers to seek sole custody of their children.