State Legislators Hear from Local Leaders at Domestic Violence Roundtable
Earlier this month, the Women & Family Life Center (WFLC) hosted its second panel on domestic violence, inviting a broad cross-section of local leaders and legislators to share their perspectives on a difficult and complex topic that continues to cause harm and defy solution in communities all over the country.
State legislators attending included were State Senator Christine Cohen (D-12) and state representatives Christine Palm (D-36), Vincent Candelora (R-86), Sean Scanlon (R-98), Noreen Kokoruda (R-101), and Robin Comey (D-102). Guilford Police Sergeant Martina Jakober also provided a law enforcement perspective, while representatives from the Guilford Youth Services Bureau were also there to answer questions and share their experiences in the field.
WFLC Program Director Wendy DeLucca previously said the center wanted to ensure the panel became a regular occurrence for elected officials.
WFLC is a nonprofit organization that helps women and families from New Haven to Madison through challenges and transitions in their lives. In 2010, WFLC led in the founding of a Shoreline Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force (SDVSATF), a group of nonprofit agencies, municipalities, and health professionals who try to coordinate resources for the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault along the shoreline.
Cohen told the Courier said that she saw the panel as an important opportunity to find out what issues might be preventing domestic violence victims from receiving help and protection, and begin looking for solutions.
“We’ve really been able to get a good look at what they see going on in the communities with respect to folks that may be in need,” she said, “from a low-income standpoint, from a domestic violence standpoint [or] a newly divorced situation, changing families...It’s really helpful for us to hear from these folks, [who] are really on the ground with people every day, helping them with some serious needs.”
DeLucca said that while there were a large number of questions and issues that came up during the panel, two topics in particular were at the front of people’s minds, both of which WFLC encounters regularly in its work in Guilford and along the shoreline.
Many people, she said, who are not separated from spouses or domestic partners but have suffered abuse and do not have access to the family’s financial resources are still unable to qualify for food stamp benefits or other assistance as, on the surface, their income appears too high. The abusive partner can withhold money as part of the abuse, she said, and the victim may not be able to do anything about it.
“We talked to the legislators about the idea of having some kind of grace period,” DeLucca said, “where a woman in that kind of situation, if we provide proof that she is working with one of us domestic violence agencies, then maybe she can get a month or two...of state assistance while she’s still legally married or technically in the same home as her abuser.”
Cohen said that this kind of legislative solution was possible, through which victims could qualify instantly and then later would provide proof that they did not have access to the financial resources that might still be in their names.
“We don’t want anybody in a violent situation, and we certainly want children and family cared for while they’re trying to leave a really violent or abusive situation,” she said.
Both Cohen and DeLucca said other state programs have similar grace periods, which provide a precedent along with guidelines for what that kind of policy might look like.
The other issue that came up was issues with repeat violators—abusers who consistently ignore protective orders and are not held accountable by the justice system. DeLucca said that the panel heard from a man who worked with domestic violence offenders, who said that many of his clients express disdain for the kind of consequences they face for continuing their abusive behaviors.
“They know that the ramifications are very slim for violating these orders,” DeLucca said, “so the word is out on the street that the repercussions are not extreme.”
Reasons for this are complicated. Cohen said that “there seems to be a great deal of subjectivity, and some bias that goes into the process” of enforcing laws that are meant to prevent these kinds of unrepentant criminals from continuing their abuse.
“What we need to do as a legislative branch is really put our heads together with the judicial branch going forward,” Cohen said.
Cohen said there were no immediate solutions offered for this issue, though she thought it was very important that legislators at the panel heard just how frightening and unfair it can be for victims trying to find safety after suffering domestic abuse.
“We can likely come up with something that will may be a bit more concrete in really showing these violators that it will not be stood for,” she said.
DeLucca said that along with continuing to explore these two issues, there were two specific bills WFLC recommended legislators re-introduce, one that would allow domestic violence victims to change their locks in apartments that they rented, and another that would outlaw unauthorized, invasive pelvic exams on people who are under the effects of anesthesia.
For more information on WFLC or for help dealing with issues of domestic violence, visit womenandfamilylife.org or call the state hotline at 1-888-774-2900.