Standing Up To Domestic Violence
Published: October 10th, 2016
By: Sen. James Seward

Since 1987, our nation has observed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Tragically, nearly one in four women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence and abuse. Domestic violence is a crime that rips apart the very fabric of families. It can afflict every segment of society and knows no economic, ethnic or geographic boundaries.

I have been a strong voice against domestic violence and have worked to enact laws that combat this crime here in New York State. Over the years, several measures have been adopted to help innocent victims, provide police and prosecutors with the tools they need to arrest and convict those who commit such heinous acts, and to increase the penalties imposed on the offenders.

In 2012, a landmark law was enacted increasing penalties for those convicted of domestic violence, creating several new crime classifications, and expanding protections available to victims. Then in 2015, a pair of measures that were part of the senate’s Women’s Equality Agenda were signed into law:

Senate bill 5 prohibits discrimination against domestic violence victims in housing, and, under the provisions of the law, a violation of this prohibition would be a misdemeanor. The new law amends the Real Property Law to protect victims of domestic violence from discrimination when they attempt to rent or lease housing and provides victims a defense in eviction proceedings. The legislation also allows the option of a civil action for a violation of the prohibition;

Senate bill 6 allows domestic violence victims to electronically file for orders of protection. Victims of domestic violence face too many obstacles in securing protection from their abusers. Some victims require immediate temporary orders of protection, but have no means to travel to the appropriate family court. The legislation creates a pilot program to allow domestic violence victims to seek temporary orders of protection through electronic means rather than having to appear in person. The new law also requires the Office of Court Administration to review and update their policies and services for all crime victims in the courts to make sure that their needs are being met so victims are truly protected.

The new laws are both key steps in assisting victims of domestic violence, however, there are additional measures I am continuing to fight for. This year, a pair of bills were passed by the senate:

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S.6658 – The Domestic Violence Protection Act, also known as Brittany’s Law, that would create a publicly accessible registry of all individuals convicted of a violent felony and allow local law enforcement to keep track of their location. The registry would be accessible to the public, similar to the registry of sex offenders that the state currently has in place;

S.3087 – Allowing domestic violence victims to testify via closed circuit television to avoid courtroom intimidation by alleged abusers. Current law only allows children who are considered vulnerable by a judge to testify via closed-circuit television. This legislation would also give domestic violence victims the option of testifying outside of the physical presence of their abusers to help facilitate cooperation with prosecutions.

While both bills passed the senate, the state assembly failed to bring either to the floor for consideration.

Domestic violence victims are often dealing with both physical and emotional trauma. These bills ensure that victims are not mistreated further and are able to start rebuilding their lives. In addition, Brittany’s Law would increase community awareness of predators and help strengthen public safety.

We are also fortunate to have several local organizations providing help to vulnerable individual. I have consistently secured grant funds for these agencies to help them in their efforts to make our communities safer. These agencies are lifelines and, in many cases, are all that stand between a domestic violence victim and a tragic situation.

By toughening our laws -- and continuing to increase public awareness -- we will better protect victims of domestic violence, while also bringing perpetrators of this terrible crime to justice.