A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. 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, I helped enact a landmark law increasing penalties for those convicted of domestic violence, creating several new crime classifications, and expanding protections available to victims.  Then in 2015, I helped advance a pair of measures that were part of the senate’s Women’s Equality Agenda that is also now law:

  • Senate Bill 5 prohibits discrimination against domestic violence victims in housing. 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;
  • 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 new law also required the Office of Court Administration to review and update their policies and services for all crime victims.

In 2018, legislation creating a “Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights” was signed into law.  The new measure details the right of survivors to consult with and be accompanied by a victim assistance organization during physical exams and interrogations; the right to preventive treatment for HIV; and the right to get a notice about the results of their sexual assault evidence kit and the status of their case.

Two other key bills I supported to help stop the sexual exploitation of children and provide safe housing for victims of human trafficking are also now in effect.  The first creates a critically needed criminal charge of sex trafficking of a child by eliminating the need to prove force, fraud, or coercion where a child under 18 engages in commercial sex.  The second establishes short-term and long-term safe houses for victims of human trafficking.

The new laws enacted recently in New York State carry significant protections for victims of domestic violence.  However, there is another major proposal that could help prevent many tragedies before they occur.

The “Domestic Violence Protection Act” is a measure I have long supported.  Also known as Brittany’s Law, the bill 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.  Several years ago, I helped enact Megan’s Law to track sex offenders upon their release from prison, and this registry would add to that protection.

Knowledge is power and the establishment of a violent felony offender registry would put that power into the hands of the public while weakening criminals who look to do harm to innocent individuals.

The Senate passed this legislation eight years in a row, but the state assembly has never even voted on the bill.  Sadly, Democrats in the Senate blocked the bill from a vote in each of the last two years.  This is part of a disturbing trend of putting criminals ahead of law-abiding citizens and it must end.

If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, help is available. Call the New York State Domestic Hotlines or visit its website athttps://opdv.ny.gov/help/dvhotlines.html. You are not alone and people are here for you.