Eugene, Oregon --Victims of domestic violence no longer have to worry about having their phone service cut off because of overdue bills. Starting September 1st, a new law requires phone companies to put victims of domestic violence on payment plans rather discontinue service, giving the abused a vital safety link.
To qualify for a payment plan, victims must have a court-issued protective order and make regular payments. Phone companies are not required to extend service to those who won't pay at all. The program provides only local service. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, passed both chambers by a wide margin.
Approval brought a feeling of relief to Cheryl O'Neill, the executive director of Womenspace, a Eugene-based shelter and support service for domestic violence victims. O'Neill began pushing for the law six years ago when she worked at the Domestic Violence Clinic of Lane County Legal Aid, helping clients go to court for protective orders to keep abusive ex-partners at bay.
One of O'Neill's clients had recently moved out of an abusive relationship and obtained a restraining order, but could not afford phone service. "Both she and I had contacted the phone company, asking them to let her make payments on the overdue bill so that she would have the safety line of a phone," O'Neill said. "At the phone company I was told it was illegal for them to make such an agreement."
O'Neill said people leaving abusive relationships often have financial problems — such as no credit history, too little income and overdue phone bills — that prevent them from getting phone service.
Yet, O'Neill says, they need phone service to call police, to contact friends and other supporters, to look for housing and jobs, to reach out for help from 24-hour crisis lines, to check on children at school, to call their lawyers.
O'Neill's client could not summon help when her abusive ex-partner showed up at her home. He raped her, and then committed suicide in front of her. "I've been carrying that woman around with me all these years. You know that sinking feeling? You reach out to catch something that's falling and you miss," she said. "I felt I still had a duty to her." (Source: Associated Press)