Assemblywoman Walker (D-55) announced that she passed legislation to help ensure victims of domestic violence have a pathway to seek justice and the resources they need to move forward with their lives. Earlier this year, the Assembly pushed to make the Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act law, leading the way in helping keep guns out of the wrong hands.
“Nobody should live in fear in their own home, but it’s the sad reality for far too many New Yorkers,” Assemblywoman Walker said. “Domestic violence is a betrayal of trust, love and respect. It’s important that we help as many people as possible break away. That means making it safe to come forward, taking their experiences seriously and compassionately and ensuring that they have the support and tools necessary to feel empowered and to move on.”
Domestic violence does not discriminate, and although it’s extremely underreported, the statistics are startling. In the U.S., more than 10 million women and men are victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner every year. Abuse can take many forms, and the victim is often most in danger if they attempt to leave or after they escape. This is why the Assembly’s legislation is so important, Assemblywoman Walker noted. It puts protections in place for the women and men who leave an abusive situation.
Helping victims distance themselves from abusers
There are often barriers that prevent a victim from leaving their abuser, including fear, shame or a lack of resources. In some cases, an abuser has control over the victim’s finances, communications and access to a support network. It’s important that we help victims separate their lives from their abuser, including getting out of phone contracts or making sure their abuser isn’t listed as an emergency contact, noted Assemblywoman Walker.
To this end, the legislative package:
- allows victims of domestic violence to be released from a telephone, cable or broadband contract, as well as a shared or family wireless contract, without incurring cancellation fees (A.1056, A.946-A);
- requires hospitals to establish procedures regarding domestic violence and ongoing training programs for staff, and to designate a hospital staff member to coordinate services for victims (A.4014-A); and
- allows non-physically injured victims of certain crimes to be reimbursed for shelter costs and crime scene cleanup (A.10275).
It’s also important that victims are not discriminated against by their employer or prevented from achieving gainful employment so they’re able to be financially independent, added Assemblywoman Walker. The legislative package includes a measure to prevent employers from discriminating against employees merely because they are victims of domestic violence. This bill would also mandate employers to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace for employees to attend court appearances and seek critical services such as counseling or medical treatment related to their abuse (A.1481-A).
“Victims of domestic violence should not be punished for the horrifying crimes committed against them, and they should never be made to feel like the abuse is their fault,” Assemblywoman Walker said. “They deserve the opportunity to move forward with their lives, and they can’t do that when their employer is holding their past trauma against them.”
Allowing more victims to seek justice
“One of the most important ways we can help survivors of domestic violence is by making it easier for them to seek justice,” Assemblywoman Walker said. “Holding abusers accountable for their crimes helps victims put the pieces of their life back together.”
The legislation includes a measure allowing judges expanded discretion in sentencing defendants who are victims of domestic violence where the abuse was a significant factor in the commission of an offense (A.3110). These victims would be able to seek lesser sentences, alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) programs and apply for resentencing if they are already serving their sentence. A three-part criterion will be used to determine eligibility based on whether the domestic violence was occurring at the time of the offense, if it was a significant contributing factor and if a sentence under existing law would be excessive.
The Assembly’s legislation would also:
- ensure victims of domestic violence understand their legal rights and access to services during criminal and family court proceedings by simplifying the language in court documents (A.5921);
- allow victims of domestic violence to receive damages for economic and non-economic losses from all defendants found liable in civil court (A.1390); and
- increase the statute of limitations in actions for injuries occurring as a result of domestic violence in civil court proceedings from one to two years (A.1516).
Assembly has strong record of standing up for victims of domestic violence
In March, the Assembly again passed the Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act, which prohibits an individual who has been convicted of a domestic violence crime from purchasing or possessing a firearm. This year, the Senate finally joined the Assembly in passing the legislation and the governor signed it into law, marking a major milestone for domestic violence survivors (Ch. 60 of 2018).
The Assembly also passed legislation to:
- require health insurers to provide victims of domestic violence the option to have claim information and benefits sent to an alternative mailing address (A.4060); and
- allow victims of domestic violence to vote by special ballot by mail (A.7009).
Help and support are always available, Assemblywoman Walker 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.