Ashley Peoples was murdered on August 10, 2008. She was 22 years old and was a victim of domestic violence. She was a student of mine at Fermi High School. She was a beautiful young lady, whose smile could light up a room. Her senseless murder brings to the forefront the issue of domestic violence. To me and to those who knew Ashley, she was not just a statistic, she was real. Her murder was real. The fact that women are victims of domestic violence is real. The need to prevent this kind of horrific crime is also real.
Last night, the Woman's Club of Enfield hosted a forum at the Middle Road Library to discuss pending legislation on this subject. The meeting was attended by our area legislators: Sen. John Kissel (R-7), Rep. Kathleen Tallarita (D-58), Rep. David Kiner (D-59), and Rep. Elaine O'Brien (D-61). Executive Director of The Network Against Domestic Abuse Kathy Barron, and Karen Jarmoc of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence were in attendance, and Ashley's mom was present as well.
In November 2009, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan convened a bipartisan legislative task force to improve Connecticut's response to incidents of domestic violence. In 2010, many of the ideas set forth by the task force became law. These included: improved training for educators in teen dating and domestic violence; bringing all of Connecticut's emergency domestic violence shelters up to 24/7 staff coverage; protecting victims who terminate their housing rental agreements to protect their safety; creating a GPS pilot program to monitor high risk offenders; adding additional domestic violence court dockets; expanding employment protections for victims; and improving the enforcement of protective orders.
In 2011, the task force achieved a second round of reforms to protect victims of domestic violence. These included: allowing people of any age, including teens, to request a restraining order to protect them from a partner who has subjected them to abuse; amending the restraining order statute to permit victims of stalking or a pattern of threatening behavior to obtain a restraining order; providing restitution to families of victims of domestic violence. Provisions concerning offenders ownership of firearms, and changes to the bail bond system were also part of the package.
This year the Speaker's Task Force hopes to further straighten protections for victims of domestic violence.
Tallarita said that she was extremely proud to be a part of the creation of the Speakers Task Force on Domestic Violence in 2009. "They have done remarkable work under the direction of Speaker Donovan but their work is not finished," she said. "The bill voted out of the Judiciary Committee includes all of the recommendations of the Task Force, which makes great strides in strengthening Connecticut ’s Domestic Violence laws and protecting victims."
"I also want to applaud Karen Jarmoc, Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, for partnering with Women’s Clubs across Connecticut, bringing new allies to continue to grow awareness to this horrific subject. The more awareness and information we can bring forward to victims, their friends and family members, the closer we may come to breaking the silence and keeping people safe. My belief is that anything proposed to the legislature in regards to further educating law officials about domestic violence and keeping victims safer during the long court process is a benefit," concluded Tallarita.
Kissel commented, "We all want Connecticut to be a national role model when it comes to our domestic violence prevention policies. I was proud to vote in favor of these domestic violence prevention measures this week in the Judiciary Committee. Our shared goal is to make our laws even stronger and make our communities safer. Through this bipartisan approach and these common sense reforms, I believe we will reduce domestic violence and ultimately save lives.”
Kissel served on The Task Force on Domestic Violence and Law Enforcement, which was created by the legislature last year to develop a state-wide model policy for use by law enforcement agencies when responding to incidents of family violence and violations of protective orders.
O'Brien said, "One of the things this bill does is expand the definition of domestic violence and recognizes that threats and stalking are to be taken seriously. It was surprising to me to hear the statistics on domestic violence. It is not something that makes the news so it is hard to realize how widespread it actually is. Anything that can be done to increase awareness is a good thing, and that will further the understanding that these behaviors are simply unacceptable."
Kiner, who was appointed to the task force last year, said, "These recommendations build on a multi-year effort of the task force to improve our state's response to domestic violence. This year, our legislative priorities are to make it easier to get a restraining order and report a violation to police. We also want to keep the victims better informed of an offender's status and improve law enforcement's ability to respond to domestic violence calls."
Kiner said the task force took a comprehensive look at police policies, arrest standards and protective-order enforcement - none of which had been seriously reviewed for over 25 years. "Implementing a statewide model policy will better prepare our law enforcement for domestic violence situations and most importantly it will help better protect victims," he said.
Kiner also mentioned that he is looking forward to receiving the findings of the feasibility study for 911 texting. He believes that 911 texting will make it easier and safer for victims to report abuse.
Editor's Note: The author is the father of Rep. David Kiner.