I am writing to ask you to do the right thing. The U.S. House of Representatives—including the entire Connecticut delegation—voted last week to reauthorize a version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that includes, among other changes, placing limits on convicted domestic abusers’ ability to buy firearms. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd, and Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, were two of the co-sponsors of the bill. The reauthorization passed 263 to 158 despite heavy lobbying by the National Rifle Association, which has become nothing more than a soulless gun delivery system. The organization lobbied especially hard against an expansion of the act that adds restrictions on gun-ownership by current or former dating partners, which closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the presence of a gun in the home of someone who commits domestic abuse increases fivefold the possibility of a homicide happening in that home. In a study that compared violent death rates in the U.S. with other high-income countries, U.S. women were 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun.
Much has been made of the #MeToo movement—and rightfully so—but an important discussion central to the movement has been sidelined. Again. This time, the safety of women has been subsumed in a strange debate about security at our country’s southern border. Amid unpaid furloughs, federal employees who are working without pay, and shuttered federal departments sits the expired Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA. VAWA funding supports a variety of initiatives in Connecticut, said Liza Andrews, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence director of public policy and communications.
While the Trump administration seeks to dismantle any and all things Obamacare, Connecticut legislators, in the waning days of this year’s legislative session, passed a bill that protects important health benefits that are part of the 2010 reform package. Legislators also passed a law that seeks to reduce the times police officers arrest both the victim and the aggressor on domestic violence calls, or so-called “dual arrests.” And they, in an attempt to close the gender wage gap, passed a bill that prevents potential employers from asking job applicants about salary history. About that last one, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, “This inequity is perpetuated by the practice of asking for salary history during the hiring process, which can disproportionately ensure that women who were underpaid at their first job continue to be underpaid throughout their careers, creating a cycle of poverty and causing real harm to families.”
But let’s give an honest grade for what happened—and what didn’t happen—in the session that ended at midnight May 9. Connecticut legislators’ effort was a solid C for what they could do for families—or, if we’re feeling generous, maybe a C+. Too many pieces of legislations that could have made a big difference in a small state were left on the table, died in committee, or never got traction.
West Hartford resident Adrienne Doughty recalls the summer night in the family camper when her then-husband hurled an object at her that whipped past head before shattering a window. The sound of broken glass brought a neighbor running. That started the 62-year-old on a long path of healing from what she describes as primarily emotional abuse from her former husband whom, ironically, Doughty thought would protect her after she’d been the victim of date rape and sexual assault by a supervisor. “In those days, you couldn’t say anything,” she said. Doughty found her voice at a workshop on intimate partner violence (IPV) offered by Susan Omilian, an attorney-turned-advocate of IPV victims after her 19-year-old niece was killed by her boyfriend. “Susan’s workshop was pivotal.
Building a new emergency housing system that would accommodate the privacy needs of victims of domestic violence in Connecticut has been complicated, frustrating work. When a person who is homeless is seeking to be housed, their name, age, and other details are entered into something called the Homeless Management Information System, or HMIS. This data is then used to direct people toward appropriate housing, and it’s a big part of why Connecticut is on track to ending chronic homelessness—the most pernicious kind—by the end of the year. But the Violence Against Women Act, which was signed into law in 1994, contains some strict confidentiality restrictions to protect victims of domestic violence. When a woman—and it’s usually a woman—escapes domestic violence, her first concern is safety.
In the last few years, groups that previously hadn’t worked together are joining forces to combat human trafficking. Yes, human trafficking right here in Connecticut. Those entities include agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, which you might imagine would work against trafficking, as well as groups such as the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut and the Connecticut Lodging Association. Truck drivers and motel workers see trafficking firsthand, and they need training to recognize it and act appropriately. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, an anti-trafficking hotline, has received some 730 calls since 2007 that referenced Connecticut.
In 2014, Lori Jackson Gellatly was shot and killed by her estranged husband, after she had moved from the family’s home with the couple’s twin toddlers to her mother’s house in Oxford. Lori Gellatly had filed for and obtained a temporary restraining order because she said her husband was abusive. She was just a day shy of a hearing for a permanent order against her husband, who also seriously wounded Lori Gellatly’s mother. Lori Gellatly’s husband (I am tired of naming shooters) has since pleaded guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder, and he’s due back in court in November for what could be a 45-year sentence. Lori Gellatly died during what advocates and researchers say is a particularly vulnerable time, when an accused offender could react violently to being subject to a temporary restraining order.
Here’s a suggestion for Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League. Stay. Of late, the NFL has been roiled by the bad behavior of some of its members, including the violence former Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice inflicted upon his then-fiancée-now-wife, Janay Palmer. Video from security cameras show Rice punching Palmer and knocking her out cold in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February, and then dragging the unconscious Palmer from the elevator. Once both videos were made public, Goodell, who’d earlier handed Rice a lame two-game suspension, had to act more forcibly.
On any given day, 350 advocates work to help victims of domestic violence in Connecticut. But because of shrinking funds, Connecticut has 10 less domestic violence workers this year, and most of those lost jobs were in direct services – the critical part of programs designed to meet the needs of a domestic violence victim who’s worked up the guts to call a hotline number. Those lost positions have contributed to some ugly statistics. On Sept. 17, 2013, according to the annual National Census of Domestic Violence Services, 103 requests for help went unmet because of a lack of staff, or lack of funding – which often is the same thing.