Maryland's new tools against domestic violence

Unemployment benefits law, better tracking of abusers will help women in violent relationships

October 01, 2012|By Anthony G. Brown

My cousin Cathy was a teacher.

Four years ago this past August, she spent part of her Friday getting her classroom ready for her students. The next day, her estranged boyfriend showed up at her home unexpectedly and shot and killed her in front of two Montgomery County police officers, who in turn shot him. That day, I learned that no family is immune to the horrors of domestic violence.

As we recognize Domestic Violence Awareness month this October, we take the time to remember women like Cathy, who have lost their lives as a result of domestic violence.

I wish I could say that Cathy's story was unique, but sadly, there are too many Marylanders who are no longer with us because of domestic violence. These were mothers who won't see their children grow up; sisters who won't get to take their families to a Ravens or Orioles game; daughters who will never have a chance to start families of their own.

We can't get these lives back, but we have an opportunity to honor their memory by changing our culture so that no victim is forced to suffer in silence, by passing laws that protect victims and survivors, and by making every resource available to anyone who needs help.

That change isn't abstract — we can start to make a real and substantial difference right now. Each of us, no matter where we live, needs to do more to stand up, speak out and stop domestic violence in our neighborhoods. Ending domestic violence begins in the community, where each of us has a fundamental responsibility to protect our friends, our families and our neighbors from harm.

Our government also has an opportunity to be a partner in addressing domestic violence. In the State House in Annapolis, our goal should be — and must be — to pass laws that support victims and survivors; to make sure that those who are threatened with domestic violence have the tools and resources they need to start better, safer lives. This month, we're taking a step forward with two laws that will help break the cycle of violence.

Right now, there are victims of domestic violence who worry that if they leave their job, they won't be able to support their families. They stay with an abuser because the choice between a dangerous present and a future where they don't know how they'll put food on the table hardly feels like a choice at all. They'll stay with an abuser because it seems like they don't have anywhere else to go.

That's why, starting today, Marylanders who are forced to leave their job to escape an abuser will be eligible for unemployment benefits. The reasoning behind the new law is simple: No victim of domestic violence should be forced to choose between personal safety and financial security.

In addition to the new unemployment benefits law, another new law goes into effect today that will help track frequent domestic abusers in our state. Judges will now be able to mark a case as "domestically related," which will make it easier to identify patterns of dangerous behavior and take action before the situation gets out of hand.

These laws won't bring my cousin Cathy back, or the 43 Marylanders who lost their lives as a result of domestic violence last year. But they will have a real impact on the lives of people throughout our state — like the woman I met in Prince George's County, who found the courage to leave her abusive boyfriend after I shared information with her about where to go for help.

These are the people we work for.

For too long, we've been operating under the myth that domestic violence, as long as it wasn't happening in our homes, wasn't our problem to solve. I believe that it's time for that myth to end.

We must — and we will — end the cycle of domestic violence in Maryland. We'll do it by raising awareness every day, not just during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, until we've reached our goal, which is zero: zero domestic violence-related deaths, zero trips to the emergency room because of violence, and zero children left without families because of domestic abuse. Anything less is unacceptable.

Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat, is Maryland's lieutenant governor. He leads the O'Malley-Brown Administration's efforts to address domestic violence and provide support to victims. His email is lt.governor@maryland.gov.
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