On Thursday, REACH will join colleagues from other domestic violence agencies across the Commonwealth and head to Beacon Hill for the annual Jane Doe Inc. Legislative Advocacy Day.
We’ll be focusing our conversations around three important pieces of legislation, as well as some budget priorities.
First, the legislation:
S1897: An Act to Establish Employment Leave and Safety Remedies to Victims of Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Sexual Assault
What the bill proposes: It would protect employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking from being penalized in the workplace for taking time off to address related issues.
Why it matters: Between 25 and 50 percent of domestic violence survivors report losing a job, at least in part due to the domestic violence (source). The annual cost to business of lost productivity due to intimate partner violence – including rape, physical assault, and stalking – is estimated $728 million (source). Financial stability essential to a survivor’s continued safety, and they shouldn’t have to choose between immediate health and safety concerns and continued employment.
S647/H1176: An Act Relative to Strangulation
What the bill proposes: It would make it a felony offense when an abuser strangles their victim during a non-fatal assault. Currently, this is only prosecuted as a misdemeanor crime of assault and battery which carries a maximum penalty of 2 ½ years in the House of Corrections; it may not be prosecuted as the most serious crime of assault with intent to murder.
Why it matters: Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence. According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, over half of all domestic violence homicide victims had experienced at least one episode of attempted strangulation prior to a lethal or near lethal violent incident. The same study found that victims of prior attempted strangulation are 7 times more likely to become a homicide victim.
In many cases, the lack of physical evidence has caused the criminal justice system to treat “choking” cases as minor incidents. Symptoms of strangulation are frequently overlooked because there may not be visible marks. If a separate crime of strangulation were established, investigators would have clear evidence guidelines and know the questions to ask and identifiers to look for. This legislation would not only hold perpetrators accountable, but it would also clarify the need for careful evidentiary documentation of the crime.
S669/H1177: An Act Relative to Punishment for the Crime of Domestic Violence
What the bill proposes: This bill would amend the “accord and satisfaction statute” to exclude domestic violence offenses from the type of offenses that can be dismissed when the victim acknowledges satisfaction for injuries resulting from the alleged criminal conduct.
Why it matters: Accord and satisfaction is intended to allow parties in minor physical altercations to reach satisfactory agreements outside of court. But the power and control dynamics of domestic violence—and often the financial dependence of victims on abusers—make domestic violence victims uniquely susceptible to coercion by their abusers into waiving the right to justice in a criminal courtroom.
Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that allows civil compromise (accord and satisfaction) over the prosecution’s objection in domestic violence cases. Prohibiting the use of accord and satisfaction in domestic violence cases would protect victims from being “re-victimized” by being coerced or threatened into such an agreement.
In addition to these important legislative priorities, we will also be talking to lawmakers about the FY2015 budget for the Commonwealth. You can help domestic violence survivors by telling your elected officials that you support Jane Doe Inc’s budget requests to return the DCF and DPH line items to above-2009 levels. Over the past few years as these line items have been cut, staff positions have been lost, demand has continued to increase, and crucial services have had to be cut or wait lists instituted. Restoring this funding is an essential step toward expanding the options available to survivors.
If you’re not sure who your legislators are, use this search page to find out: https://malegislature.gov/People/Search
Then call, write, or visit and let your voice be heard on behalf of domestic violence survivors!