Four domestic violence-related deaths in the past year in the Rochester community — two each in the city and suburbs — highlight the need for continued efforts and resources to combat the problem permeating all levels of society.
“This is a problem that continues to plague our community,” said Carl Hatch-Feir, chair of the Rochester Monroe County Domestic Violence Consortium of agencies and organizations committed to addressing domestic violence issues.
He welcomed more than 150 representatives of the various agencies, victims, members of law enforcement, and politicians and their representatives Friday to discuss progress and challenges at the 16th annual legislative breakfast at The College at Brockport MetroCenter in downtown Rochester. The theme of the consortium this year is “Ending Violence in the Home and Community.”
“There is no question we all understand this is a scourge in this community,” said Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks. “I think many of us in this room know someone who was impacted by domestic violence.”
She said domestic violence impacts individuals and families and is a pathway to poverty, but noted the community is better off than it was seven years ago. In 2008, the consortium’s Criminal Justice Committee did a review, identifying several areas of high need, which it has been working on since.
“I don’t know what it’s like to not feel safe in my own home,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren, who noted she often wakes up thinking about ways to make the community better. She said one way to start is by giving people a safe place to live.
A couple of bills pending in the state Legislature could help secure housing for victims of domestic violence. Nicole Trabold, a research associate at the University of Rochester, said studies link homelessness to domestic violence and that many victims have to choose between homelessness or continued abuse.
She said homelessness is also an obstacle to employment and that victims often become evicted as a result of numerous police calls to their home or damage by their abusers.
Trabold reviewed a number of proposed bills including two housing bills: One, passed in the Senate in January, would prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to domestic violence victims. Another, (Assembly Bill 01322), would give crime victims the right to call for police help without penalty by a property owner or municipality. It would not stop municipalities from addressing drug, weapon and property crimes directly through penal, housing and zoning laws.
Other pending proposals include:
Among the successes of the 2014 legislative agenda, Angela Szewczyk said the Legislature acted quickly to redefine aggravated harassment after the Court of Appeals ruled in May in People v. Golb, 23 NY3d 455 that Penal Law Section 240.30(1)(a) was overly broad and violated First Amendment free speech rights.
The section defined aggravated harassment as communication “the actor knows … will cause such person to reasonably fear harm” to themselves or members of their family. The new law criminalizes communications that threaten to harm property or a family or household member that the perpetrator knows will cause a victim to fear such harm. It also adds electronic means of communication and amends other provisions of the law.
Szewczyk said another big victory is passage of a law that makes it illegal to install or use a device to view, record or broadcast a person engaged in sexual conduct in a way that they can be identified, when done without the victim’s knowledge or consent in a place where the victim can expect privacy.
Revenge porn, an abuse tactic of sharing explicit images of someone to harm them, was addressed by Theresa Asmus-Roth, area supervisor at RESTORE Sexual Assault Services, who said 63 percent of images are posted by ex-partners. She said 83 percent of the images were taken by victims and shared with someone they thought they could trust.
Asmus-Roth said 93 percent of the victimized suffered extreme emotional distress, forcing some to change jobs or addresses. As an example, she cited Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who was gang raped in November 2011 when she was 15 by four teenage boys who posted video of the crime on the Internet.
Asmus-Roth said people called Parsons a slut. She was bullied and inundated with emails, some from people saying they wanted to have sex with her, until she committed suicide at age 17.
Asmus-Roth said Parsons’ attackers were not charged until after she died. Two were convicted; not of rape, but for distribution of pornography.
Other speakers included John Klofas, professor and director of the Center for Public Safety Initiatives at Rochester Institute of Technology who talked about “Uncovering the Connections: Domestic Violence & Community Violence;” Peter Carpino, president and CEO, United Way of Greater Rochester, and Jaime Saunders, CEO, Alternatives for Battered Women, “Poverty and Family Violence;” I. Geena Cruz, CEO, “Speak” and interim president, SAFER, “Workplace Supports for Victims of Domestic Violence;” and Joel E. Kunkler, director of Landlord Tenant Services at The Housing Council at PathStone, “The Important Issue of Housing for Victims of Domestic Violence.”
For more information, visit www.rmcdvc.org.