Does “State of the State” directive do enough for victims of Domestic Violence?

Earlier this month, the New York Governor announced a package designed to “combat Domestic Violence and Gender-Based Violence” as part of his 2021 State of the State directive.

This couldn’t come soon enough. As a law firm that fights for victims here in New York, we’ve seen a huge rise in certain abuse cases since the pandemic began.

As Cuomo said: “One of the most horrific results of this pandemic has been the stark rise in cases of domestic and gender-based violence.”  

The new package includes some promising initiatives.

Firstly, a proposal allowing courts to require abusers to pay for:

  • damages to a housing unit
  • moving expenses
  • other housing costs related to domestic violence

This is good progress because there are many situations where victims find their hands are tied. You can have an offender arrested, they may plead guilty, you can get an Order of Protection – all great outcomes – BUT the victim must do all the spending and losing out on resources. And family court doesn’t have a direct way to make an abuser pay those damages that they caused.

Say for example, you find out your housemate is surveilling you: you obviously need to get out – NOW – but by doing so you become homeless. A victim should not have to absorb the cost of that. Or, you have kids with the person abusing you and can’t afford to “just leave” your family home and house everybody somewhere else.

Victims should not have to foot the bill for escaping abuse. But so often, they do.

“One of the most horrific results of this pandemic has been the stark rise in cases of domestic and gender-based violence.” -  NY Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The NY gun license loophole 

The package also proposed the creation of a new DV misdemeanor label to help close the domestic violence gun-purchasing loophole.

We know that an abusive partner’s access to a firearm is a serious threat to victims of domestic violence, making it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.*  So why are abusers with convictions still able to hoard weapons??! 

The current process of disqualifying an obviously dangerous and abusive individual found guilty of serious misdemeanors from obtaining a New York gun license, is cumbersome and unwieldy.

The abuser must be found to have committed a crime against someone with whom they were in a domestic relationship after a separate hearing, but many disqualifying domestic violence misdemeanors are not labeled as such.

New York state took a step towards closing this loophole last year by pushing court clerks to report “disqualifying convictions” in a timely manner, but this process isn’t always followed-through and dangerous people are buying weapons.

The package also includes a proposal to require the Office of Court Administration to report domestic violence felony statistics to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services monthly. This is an effort to ensure that domestic violence incidents can be counted in an efficient way.

Also, as part of the directive, the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence will become the Office to End  Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, tasked with addressing the intersection of the many forms of intimate partner violence. But as of now, we don’t really know what this will look like.

Is the package really “comprehensive”? 

This couldn’t come soon enough. But is it enough? There’s a lot missing from this package:

  • Tech – often victims of intimate partner violence are justly worried their offender has installed keylogging software (enables an offender to remotely monitory a person’s online conduct). They sometimes spend money scanning for this software** and frequently must replace their computers and cell phones altogether.
  • Accounts – Victims need to extricate themselves from the joint accounts they share with their abusers – cell, utilities, cloud accounts, etc.
  • Childcare – Victims with children are often suddenly bearing the full brunt of childcare. They need financial assistance making sure the kids are safely cared for.

*J.C. Campbell, et al., “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study,” American Journal of Public Health 93, no.7 (2003): 1089–1097

**For free scans for keylogging software check out the ‘clinic’ run by our friends at Cornell Tech.

 

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