Domestic Violence Awareness, October 1999

Denver Women's Commission
Domestic Violence Awareness, October 1999

September 15, 1999

Prepared by Chaer Robert for

Colorado Woman News

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS

Most women are very aware of domestic violence. The news media carry weekly reminders as women are killed by those they have loved. We are much less aware of what legislators has done over the years to address this problem.

The voluntary tax check for domestic violence programs was established by the state legislature in 1983. About $250,000 has been raised yearly from individual contributions on state income taxes. These moneys are distributed among 40 programs statewide. That check off was continued again this year. But this year we finally corrected our collective shame that Colorado was one of only two states that did not provide state funding for safehouses. Thanks to Rep. Bill Kaufman, Senator Dottie Wham, and Senator Ed Perlmutter, $200,000 was allocated for Safehouses this year, and another $200,000 for legal services for victims of family violence. Next year that amount will increase to $400,000 each.

Traditionally, our state has been more of a national leader when it comes to penalties for the perpetrator. Prior to 1985, women had to go through civil court to get and enforce restraining orders. In 1985, law enforcement was allowed to arrest or remove those violating restraining orders. In 1992, law enforcement was mandated to arrest those violating a restraining order. In 1998, repeated violations of restraining orders required enhance sentencing.

Sentencing, because it is the most expensive piece, is the most difficult to expand. Most batterers do not serve jail time. Instead they are generally required to attended domestic violence counseling. Repeat offenders, though, are the clearest danger to the women they are with. Last year an attempt to enhance penalties (i.e. require jail time for) third and subsequent domestic violence offenses, was struck from Rep. Kaufman’s bill due to the cost (approximately $3 million per year). However the need will be revisited when the State Legislature convenes again in January.

Since most perpetrators are only sentenced to counseling, the quality of that counseling is critical to the safety of the victim. In 1988, the State first established standards for certification and operation of perpetrator treatment programs. Local boards were to certify programs in their judicial districts. Because these boards had no funding or staff, some were very active, others ineffective. The program has been extended, but in 2000 the clock runs out. A new certification system needs to be approved for us to have some confidence in the abilities of those counseling batterers.

In 1997, Colorado approve its new welfare reform program -- Colorado Works. Contained within it and the 1996 Federal Welfare reform law was a recognition that domestic violence and welfare -- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)--- were not unrelated. Most studies (most small scale) have shown at least half of recipients have experienced domestic violence, and about a fourth experience current domestic violence. Under Colorado law, those who identified domestic violence as a problem are supposed to be referred to resources and told about their rights to opt out of certain requirements. Anecdotally , some counties are being conscientious about this; others seem unaware of the law’s provision. There is no statewide data on how battered women are being treated by the new welfare program.

An emerging issue in the field of domestic violence legislation is whether crimes committed with children present should be treated different than those without. At a municipal level, about half of domestic violence occurs when children are present. Witnessing domestic violence dramatically increases the odds of children growing up to be batterers and victims. Additional sentencing may be too expensive to be realistic. The nature of the crime would need to be defined carefully, lest a victim be charged with endangering her children because she did not take active enough steps to escape from danger. Funding of resources such as counseling or supervised visitation may be another approach.

Tell your legislator that you see it as a critical role for government to help protect us from violence, whether it is in our communities or in our homes. At the least, government should ensure there are consequences for those who chose violence.

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