Wednesday, April 27, 2005

New South Carolina Domestic Violence Bill Jumps To House Floor

A new criminal domestic violence bill was put on a fast-track to the South Carolina House floor on April 26. Bypassing subcommittee, the bill went directly to the full House, something that is rarely done. The House adjourned at 5:30pm without a vote on the bill. Other bills were on the House calendar Tuesday that they say had to take precedence, but lawmakers say they expect to vote on the bill Wednesday. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison of Columbia says the bill is expected to be approved. Harrison says Charleston Representative John Graham Altman is one of the sponsors. Altman received national attention last week for what he said after an earlier domestic violence bill was killed. He told WIS (a television station) he didn't understand why women go back to men who abuse them. Domestic violence advocates say the new bill looks a lot like the bill they introduced to the full committee, the one that was tabled.

The new bill includes training for judges, and at first glance, advocates say one of the penalties is stiffer than what was originally asked for. The original bill required third time offenders to serve a mandatory minimum of 120 days behind bars. In the new version, a third offence would be a felony, punishable by a minimum of a year in jail. The new bill would also set fines of up to $2500 for first-offense criminal domestic violence. The current penalty is 30 days in jail or a $500 fine. The bill's co-sponsor, Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) says, "What they have offered and put on the table is making the third offence a felony, which I support. ... I didn't think I could get that much. That's why I didn't include it in my original version. But I'm saying, hey you guys, go for it." One thing Cobb-Hunter and advocates are still sorting through is a section dealing with pretrial intervention. The way the original bill was written, pre-trial intervention is not an option for batterers.

Under the new bill, first offenders would still attend pre-trial intervention, but the program would be 26 weeks instead of around six, and would require offenders to attend batterer intervention programs, previously not required. The bill also makes another big change. In the past, a first-time offender's record would be expunged after three years. In the new bill, that's bumped up to five years all in all.

Advocates say they have never seen so much compliance with what we've been asking for.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Workplace slaying victim's family sets up fund

For the family of slain coffee shop worker Erin Sperrey, every day is another chance to make workplaces safer. It's a mission the family has advanced passionately since early January when Sperrey was killed while working the night shift at a Tim Hortons restaurant in Caribou. Sperrey, who would have been 21 in February, was beaten to death on Jan. 2, allegedly by a co-worker. According to a court document, Christopher Shumway, 19, told police that he beat Sperrey with his hands and feet and strangled her, leaving her to die in one of the store's restrooms while he waited on customers.

In the minutes before her death, Sperrey was unable to push any kind of panic button - a silent alarm that would alert police - because her workplace had no such security equipment.
That has spurred Sperrey's family to launch Erin's Fund.

The fund, operated by Sperrey's mother, Johna Lovely, and her sister, Amanda McKnight, was created to implement security systems and procedures in workplaces where young people are employed, the two women said this week during an interview conducted by e-mail.
"We believe that all businesses should have security devices in place, including panic buttons, and that employees should be trained in the proper use of this equipment," McKnight said.
Their goal is to see all gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants and fast-food businesses in Aroostook County have the devices in place by the end of 2005. A Hampden alarm company has donated free installations and equipment.

Lovely and McKnight are encouraging employee training in workplace violence and keeping safe on the job through videotapes and workshops. They plan to buy videotapes that can be lent to local businesses and want to ensure that the workshops teach people to recognize the signs of harassment and stress the importance of reporting such incidents. While family members move these measures forward, they are using the fund to lobby for legislation that makes security and training mandatory in all businesses that employ young people. Sperrey's family expects a bill to be introduced in the Legislature.

"If our efforts save even one young person and their family from experiencing what we have been through since January 2nd, it is worth every minute of work," Lovely said. While workplace safety serves as its major focus, the fund also oversees the Erin Elizabeth Sperrey Memorial Scholarship, available for students who graduate from Presque Isle High School Alternative Education program. Sperrey, a 2002 graduate of the high school, was a participant in the program. The family will award the first scholarship in June in conjunction with Tim Hortons and the Maine Community Foundation. The family is funding these initiatives through donations to Erin's Fund and the sale of window-clinging memorial ribbons. Lovely and McKnight said the response they've received from the community for Erin's Fund has been mostly positive. Since January, they have raised about $4,000 for the fund and sold about 500 memorial ribbons. They cost $5 apiece.

The women said eight security systems have been installed in Aroostook County businesses, although they said they have had "some difficulty" in getting businesses to put in the equipment.
"These past 31/2 months our thoughts have been consumed with thinking about Erin not being with us. We miss her every minute of every day," Lovely said. "The only way we can cope now is to pour our energy into keeping Erin's memory alive and protecting our young people in her name." For more information, visit

South Carolina State Legislator's Comments Highlight Need for Domestic Violence Education

A state legislator’s recent comments during a television interview highlight the diverse need for domestic violence education in South Carolina, local officials say. State Rep. John Graham-Altman, R-Charleston, drew fire on April 20th after criticizing victims of domestic violence during an interview with WIS-TV. “There ought not to be a second offense,” Altman said. “The woman ought not to be around the man. I mean you women want it one way and not another. Women want to punish the men, and I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who abuse them.”

“There’s still a lot of myths and ignorance in our legislators,” said Martha Busterna, director of Greenwood’s Sexual Trauma & Counseling Center. “It’s outrageous to think we’re that far behind, but we’re one of the leaders in the country for domestic violence numbers.” On April 18, the House Judiciary Committee tabled the Protect Our Women in Every Relationship (POWER) Act, which sought to make Criminal Domestic Violence crimes a felony for the second offense. The decision to table the bill essentially delayed further action on it for the remainder of the year. In a tape of the committee meeting obtained by The (Columbia) State newspaper, Altman asked why POWER specifically protected women. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland, suggested calling the bill the “Protecting Our People in Every Relationship Act” — or “POPER” — the newspaper reported. A voice on the tape is heard pronouncing it “Pop her.” Then another says “Pop her again” followed by laughter.

“And they wonder why we rank in the bottom on women in office and we lead in women getting killed by men,” state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who sponsored the bill, said later. “It was done in bad taste and the wrong message was conveyed,” State Rep. Gene Pinson, R-Greenwood, said of Altman’s comments. “Although I think there was some substance to his words. It was not what was said, but the way it was verbalized.” Pinson said many people don’t understand why victims of domestic violence return to their abusers. “I’m around different abuse situations enough to know why people go back,” Pinson said. “Some of it’s economic, some of it’s to protect the family unit. Some of it’s in hope that it will be better next time. But we’re here to protect people from being battered and abused, not to encourage it.”

“I think it’s just a matter of people not having an understanding of domestic violence,” said MEG’s House Director Alice Hodges. MEG’s House is a shelter for abused women and services McCormick, Edgefield and Greenwood counties. “We have people that don’t understand the dynamics, they don’t understand why women stay or why women choose to go back,” she said. “This is not a woman’s issue, this is a family issue. It doesn’t just affect the woman, it also affects the children. And, of course, we have men who are victims.”

Busterna said she was “appalled” by Altman’s words, but believed they may have positive repercussions. “It’s opened up some new avenues for domestic violence to be discussed among advocates and legislators in this state,” she said. “It’s really brought attention to our need to improve domestic violence laws. Something good has come from his ignorance.” In South Carolina, criminal domestic violence acts are classified as misdemeanors for the first three offenses. A bill is expected to be introduced in the House next week to make a third CDV offense a felony. (Source: Greenwood Index Journal)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Illinois Attorney General Proposes Legislation To Help DV Victims Establish Safe Living Enviroments

Marking the 25th Annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently announced she has proposed legislation to help victims of domestic violence secure permanent housing and establish a safe living environment away from their abusers by providing, when needed, for the payment of security deposits and first month’s rent as relocation expenses.

Madigan said Senate Bill 416 is a critical improvement to the Illinois Crime Victims’ Compensation Act, which her office administers and which helps victims of violent crime with grants for services ranging from funerals to counseling to relocation expenses.
Madigan said the Crime Victim Compensation Act does not specifically identify security deposits or first month’s rent as potentially reimbursable relocation expenses. As a result, the Court of Claims – which approves expenses – has repeatedly rejected the Office of the Attorney General’s recommendation for those expenses. However, under SB 416, those costs specifically would be identified as relocation expenses and therefore would be eligible for reimbursement.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Self-Help Protective Order Kit Now Available for Domestic Violence Victims In Texas

On April 12, The Supreme Court of Texas, in collaboration with the Texas Access to Justice Commission, unveiled a self-help Protective Order Kit which will enable victims of domestic violence to file their own applications for protective order. The kit, created by a Texas Supreme Court Task Force, will make it possible for victims to have access to court-ordered protection for themselves and their children, including compelling the abuser to leave the home if necessary.
The Protective Order Kit was unveiled at a press conference to commemorate National Crime Victims' Rights Awareness Week, which is observed April 10-16, 2005. Texas First Lady Anita Perry, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill spoke at the press conference in support of the Protective Order Kit. Additionally, Thomasina Olaniyi-Oke, a survivor of domestic violence, spoke about how legal aid helped her escape a violent marriage.

The free, step-by-step Protective Order Kit comes with detailed instructions for filling out the paperwork, having a temporary order signed by a judge and requesting a hearing date to grant the protective order. The temporary order and the protective order are enforceable once they are signed by a judge. The kit also provides helpful information for victims on how to prepare for the hearing. There is no cost to the victims to participate in these proceedings.

The Protective Order Kit is available at The kit will be translated into Spanish and Vietnamese within six months. Individuals needing assistance with filling out the paperwork, information about their legal rights or assistance with safety planning should call the Women's Advocacy Project's Family Violence Legal Line at 800-374-4673.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pierce County Settles With Crystal Brame's Family

PIERCE COUNTY - Almost two years after then-Tacoma police Chief David Brame killed his wife and committed suicide, Pierce County has settled with the family. Lane and Patty Judson, Crystal Brame's parents, say this tragedy should never have happened. They say David Brame was unfit to be a police officer, let alone a chief. And they say earlier 911 calls from Crystal Brame failed to get an appropriate response. Crystal Brame's family sued Tacoma, Pierce County and the City of Gig Harbor where the shooting occurred. But on April 6, the Judsons agreed to dismiss Pierce County from the lawsuit. In exchange, Pierce County will do the following to help address domestic violence issues in the community:
1. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department will devote three domestic violence investigators and a sergeant to staff the Family Justice Center -- a new one-stop community service facility for victims of domestic violence and their children.
2. The county will conduct a series of domestic violence training seminars for sheriff's deputies and law enforcement personnel from other municipalities in the county, as well as make such training available to other entities.
3. The county will dedicate a plaque to the memory of Crystal Judson at the new Family Justice Center.
Neither the family nor their attorneys will receive any monetary benefit from the agreement.
There is apparently no settlement with the City of Tacoma, and that lawsuit will continue.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Domestic Violence Costs Tennessee Businesses

The economy of Tennessee loses millions of dollars per year due to domestic violence, which directly affects businesses in the form of absenteeism, reduced productivity, health care, lost wages, sick leave, and security costs, says the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. The council's executive director, Lauren Howard, says that the council is trying to get state lawmakers to support domestic violence-prevention programs. The economic impact of domestic violence cannot be underestimated, says Margaret Jane Powers, the council's chairwoman. "It's unreal how much it costs," Powers states. Sometimes the perpetrators of domestic violence seek out their victims in the workplace, she notes. Nationwide, employers lose $36 billion per year due to domestic violence, according to a report from the Palm Springs, Calif.-based Workplace Violence Research Institute. Domestic violence costs the Tennessee healthcare system $32.9 million a year, according to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.