Bills target domestic violence
Several bills pending in the Legislature would provide stronger punishment of domestic violence offenders while offering victims more protection and better coordination of money to help them.
Four bills adopted by the Senate and two by the House have been sent for approval by the other chamber.
Two of the Senate bills were filed by Sen. Will Longwitz, R- Madison.
“I am grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for their attention to the issue of domestic violence and for their unanimous support of these bills,” Longwitz said. “Lt. Gov. (Tate) Reeves gave these bills his full backing from the beginning, and we could not have done it without his help. I hope our counterparts in the House will take this chance to punish abusers and protect victims.”
Senate Bill 2629 says that even if a victim of felony domestic violence is unwilling to file an affidavit, the alleged abuser could be prosecuted. Current law mandates that officers make an arrest and file an officer affidavit where they find probable cause for misdemeanor, or “simple,” domestic violence but not for felony, or “aggravated,” domestic violence.
Longwitz’s other bill, SB2626, would increase the penalty for simple domestic violence from six months in jail and/or a $500 fine to one year and/or a $1,500 fine.
In Mississippi, about 10,000 people annually are victims of domestic abuse.
The issue of domestic violence has received a lot of attention over the past few years, resulting in some progressive legislation focusing on offender prosecution and victim safety, said Sandy Middleton, executive director of the Center for Violence Prevention in Pearl.
Middleton chaired the Domestic Violence Task Force created last year by the Legislature. Some of the bills still under consideration this year stemmed from task force recommendations. One of those would create a commission to receive all federal domestic violence funds. This, proponents say, would provide more efficient delivery of services to victims and less red tape for victim service agencies, Middleton said.
“Victim service agencies find ourselves responding to more domestic violence and sexual assault cases with the recent addition of human trafficking cases,” she said.
Middleton said progress has been made over the years, with law enforcement training aiding in more arrests and judicial training resulting in more prosecutions. She said victims are quicker to ask for help when they trust the criminal justice system.
“We have come a long way, but we still have much work to do,” Middleton said. “For example, only three out of 100 rapists ever spend a day in jail while the other 97 go free. Additionally, we’ve just scratched the surface on the crime of human trafficking.”
Cerissa Neal of Madison said her late mother was a victim of domestic abuse in Mississippi.
“Victims of domestic violence are held hostage by spouses who do not want anyone else to have the other,” Neal said. “It’s sad, but the law, at this moment, does not protect the victim by giving law enforcement the ability to pursue criminal charges ‘without a victim’ and many … are too beat down to file charges. Although my mother did, the consequences was never followed through. Could that have made a difference? Not for my mom but maybe for others who need help.”
Neal said it’s terrible to tell a woman who lives in her own home that the available help is in a shelter.
“Why should she have to leave her home to be safe? She should have been safe regardless. She pressed charges several times, and nothing was ever done. They treated it like a joke, but it was her life.”