Politics & Government
1:00 am
Mon June 17, 2013

Lawmakers Cooperate on Bills to Help Domestic Abuse Victims

There appears to be bipartisan consensus, when it comes to strengthening laws for victims of domestic abuse.

Three bills easily passed in the Assembly late last week. They now head to the Senate.

The author of the changes is De Pere Republican state Rep. Andre Jacque. He says one provision would affect the legal description of stalking.

“Stalking is a significant indicator of danger, but is currently not included in the definition of domestic abuse, for the purpose of obtaining a domestic abuse restraining order.”

Jacque testified a few weeks ago, when an Assembly committee considered his bills. They also would protect the privacy of children seeking restraining orders, and keep temporary orders in place, when new judges take over cases.

Another provision would affect law enforcement. Officers would be required to tell victims of domestic violence about shelters and services available. Jodine Basterash says that information would have made a big difference to her, when she was in an abusive relationship.

“I didn’t know that I was in domestic violence. And I truly feel that if the police officer would have pulled me aside and would have said, ‘look -- what you’re going through is domestic violence, it’s not going to get any better,’ whether I acted on it right then and there or not, I think just having that education, having that knowledge is almost like planting seeds.”

The bill also would require police who respond to domestic violence calls -- but do not arrest anyone -- to write reports, explaining their decision.

Tony Gibart works for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. He says most police respond appropriately to domestic abuse calls, but it can be tricky unraveling the truth.

“When you have victims who are fearful of retaliation if they say things that would cause the perpetrator to be arrested, or you have victims who are unsure if they want the perpetrator to be arrested, they might say things like, you know, ‘oh, I fell down the stairs,’ or ‘I ran into the door.’ This law will direct officers to do the analysis, to do the investigation, and to really think through their conclusions, that we hopefully get to better outcomes.”

Gibart says the record-keeping will help supervisors determine if officers are using best practices, or need additional training. He calls the new police requirement one of the most important, in the three bills.

Carmen Pitre says for her, the most significant is the provision allowing prosecutors to bring up evidence of prior abuse. Pitre is with the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee.

“Sometimes what happens is if you look just at the single event, you don’t really get the full scope of what’s happened in that relationship, and so to me, being able to broaden what the jury or the court can consider, I think is pretty significant.”

Pitre says the three bills would help hold abusers accountable, something she insists is needed when domestic violence remains prevalent.

“We saw 9,500 clients last year. We had 22,000 people who called us on our hotline. So for Milwaukee, our numbers have consistently been high. What’s been troubling, though, is the level of injury and the near-fatal cases, in our opinion, have been growing in the last couple of years.”

Statewide, about 30,000 abuse cases are reported each year. Advocates say many other victims remain silent.