Friday, January 20, 2006

Cell Phone Records Available For Sale Spells Danger for Domestic Violence Victims

Reports of websites that sell records of cell phone calls have been in the press for months, prompting action this week by lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission. While many have heard about this situation, you may not have considered how this may impact victims of domestic violence or stalking.

Numerous websites have been advertising that they can provide records of incoming and outgoing cell phone calls--for less than $100, in some cases. That kind of information is often used by law enforcement agencies in their investigations. However, stalkers or abusive spouses could exploit the online availability of such data. In addition, some of these brokers will provide information locating those phone calls within 500 – 1000 feet. In cases of victims of domestic violence – this information could be deadly.

Employers that have domestic violence programs and are assisting employees should be aware of this situation when counseling employees about using wireless phones as part of safety planning. Using wireless phones for 911 calls is life-saving, but it is important to caution domestic violence victims regarding the potential for their wireless phone records and phone call locations to be tracked.

Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless have both requested court orders against data brokers accused of obtaining the records through fraud. In addition, Verizon Wireless Call Center team members go through special training to detect such fraud. The Federal Communications Commission's enforcement bureau this week also said it's looking into companies that obtain telephone records without the customer's approval or knowledge. In addition, lawmakers on federal and state levels are introducing legislation to criminalize such activity, and several states are launching investigations into how the companies have obtained the records.

In the meantime, use caution.

Friday, January 13, 2006

New Wisconsin Law Defines Predominant Aggressor

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed a new law January 5th intended to prevent the arrest of victims of domestic violence. The law, which is expected to go into effect April 1, directs police to arrest the predominant aggressor in a dispute, not someone who has lashed out in self-defense. It fine tunes an act that took effect in April 1989 that made an arrest mandatory in domestic violence cases.

Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the bill would help prevent victims from being arrested unjustly. "The impact of the arrest alone is stunning," she said. "There's a financial cost, but there's a huge psychological, emotional toll that that takes on a victim."

The new law replaces the term "primary aggressor" with "predominant aggressor" to identify the most significant attacker, not just who hit first. It also urges officers not to arrest anyone else in a dispute and hold the suspect until the person posts bail or appears before a judge.

Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire, who cosponsored the bill, said the law will likely help police determine who should be arrested. According to the latest state Justice Department data available, nearly 4 percent, or 641 incidents, resulted in multiple arrests or charges in 17,827 domestic disputes across the state of Wisconsin in 2003.

The law also sets out more criteria for police to consider when determining who to arrest, including:

- the history of domestic abuse between the parties,
- witness statements,
- the relative degree of injury to the parties,
- the extent to which a party appears to fear another,
- whether someone is making threats about future harm,
- whether someone acted to defend himself or herself or another

The bill is AB 436.

Friday, January 06, 2006

VAWA Reauthorization Includes National Resource Center on Workplace Responses to Assist Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence

On January 5, President Bush signed into law H.R. 3402, the Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, which includes re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Information about H.R. 3402 is available at .

The VAWA re-authorization includes a national resource center on workplace responses to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence. What does this mean? The legislation indicates that: “The Attorney General, acting through the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, may award a grant to an eligible nonprofit nongovernmental entity or tribal organization, in order to provide for the establishment and operation of a national resource center on workplace responses to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence.” The resource center would provide information and assistance to employers and labor organizations to aid in their efforts to develop and implement responses to such violence.