Domestic violence bill heads to governor - WNEM TV 5

Domestic violence bill heads to governor

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Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill that would extend more protections to victims of abuse.

Supporters of the bill said it would help abuse victims secure custody rights and restraining orders more easily.

"It is about power and control," said Valerie Hoffman, CEO of Underground Railroad, which helps abuse victims.

Victims of domestic violence often feel trapped, whether it's in their home or in their relationship. They sometimes feel unable to get help.

A new package of bills awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder's signature aim to change that by giving more power back to the victim.

One way is by making it more challenging for abusers to gain custody of their children.

"They've filed for visitation, custody for children that came about from an illegal act," Hoffman said.

Hoffman said she works with situations like that all the time.

"That puts a burden on that individual, not only from the emotional component of having to raise a child, to constant contact with that individual," Hoffman said.

Residents in Mid-Michigan seem to be in favor of the change in the law.

"That's a terrible thing to keep the child involved just to keep someone there and you threaten the child," Kyryk Whitehead said.

Another component of the bill package would prevent courts from ordering mediation between the abuser and the victim.

Hoffman said that part of the bill is crucial and a major problem with the way divorce cases that result from domestic violence are handled.

"There are many judges in our state who basically see domestic violence as a bunch of hooey," Hoffman said.

She said if the abuser and victim are in the same room, the control continues, and hopefully the bills could change that.

The bill package would also protect pets from harm. Research shows offenders of domestic violence often have a pattern of abuse involving all members of the household, including pets.

Pets can often be used as a tool to terrorize their victims.

The bills are trying to protect pets, while taking away overlooked ways abusers manipulate their victims. The goal is to allow victims to list pets in a personal protection order.

"That piece of being able to cover and protect in a no contact order is very important," Hoffman said.

The Underground Railroad also has a safe place for pets. She knows abusers will often threaten or harm a pet to get back at their victims.

"The loss of the animals are very stressful and another way to be able to prevent somebody from wanting to be able to leave," Hoffman said.

She said sometimes an abuser will take a family pet to the shelter as a way of manipulating the victim, and often times it works.

Residents said they hadn't thought of that type of abuse before, but are glad to see something being done.

"What's the dog have to do with it? The dog can barely take care of itself. Why would you use a dog to keep someone that doesn't want to be there," Whitehead said.

Hoffman said protecting pets in a domestic abuse situation is an important step in allowing the victim to escape the situation.

"It's something that's a real concern. I mean, we love our children and we love our pets. And there isn't anything we wouldn't do to keep them safe from harm," Hoffman said.

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