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Update on Undocumented Victim Information

spotlightOur AmeriCorps member, Morgan Roy, wrote a follow-up blog to her post last week with some additional information regarding undocumented victims of domestic violence.

 

Victims of domestic violence face several barriers when it comes to disclosing their abuse. These could include fear of rejection, less-than-desirable interactions with organizations or law enforcement, and fear of confidentiality being broken. Those who are in the country without proper paperwork face additional barriers to disclosing their victim status and being provided resources. It is a common misconception that undocumented immigrants cannot seek out assistance. Most of these people never reveal the violence that is occurring for fear of being deported. In my last blog, I wrote about Visa options for undocumented immigrants as well as general resources available. Since the time of my last Spotlight post, I have gotten a hold of information pertaining to new executive orders and policy changes surrounding immigration from the ACCESS housing coordinator, Virginia Griesheimer. She has been in contact with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) to stay up-to-date on Iowa’s legislative details, and is now partnering with AmeriCorps Partnering to Protect Children (APPC) to disperse the latest findings.  I pulled information that was the most critical for victims and children of domestic violence.

  • Everyone who is undocumented is a priority.
    • A note to victims: try to maintain a clean police record. If law enforcement notices prior arrests or charges, they will become a target. Note that this can include charges related to driving.
  • Revoke prior memos directing prosecutorial discretion.
    • Prosecutorial discretion leaves an agency or officer in charge of determining what to do with the case due to victim status.
      • That authority has been taken away from prosecutors. It’s now more in the hands of legal professionals with specialized training in serving victims, advocates, and the clients themselves to try and advocate for a slowdown on deportation, but there are no guarantees.
    • Punish ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions.
      • “These cities, counties, and states have laws, ordinances, regulations, resolutions, policies, or other practices that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE — either by refusing to or prohibiting agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, denying ICE access to interview incarcerated aliens, or otherwise impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers.” -Jessica Vaughan, CIS Director of Policy Studies.
      • ICE detainers allow for a person to be held for an extra 48 hours in jail while an immigration agency decides what to do with the case.
        • The ‘sanctuary’ city of Des Moines won’t honor an ICE detainer without judge approval. Marion County will not honor the detainer unless a judge approved the move with a probable cause warrant. Try to note what the criteria for honoring an ICE detainer nearby.
      • 287 (g) Agreements.
        • This gives state and local law enforcement authority to carry out the functions of immigration law enforcement.
          • State and local law enforcement may now investigate, apprehend, and detain undocumented immigrants.
          • It is stated that these officers must be trained under ICE officers. There is currently no public information pertaining to state and local law enforcement in Iowa under 287 (g).
        • Expedited Removal Expansion.
          • This now covers someone located anywhere in the United States who has entered within the last two years.
            • A note to victims and advocates: if an interaction with law enforcement is to occur, it is recommended to state that the victim has been in the U.S. for two years.
            • A note to victims: if an interaction with law enforcement is to occur, don’t speak until professional representation is present, whether that be a lawyer or an advocate.

Iowa’s Coalition on Domestic Violence reported a decrease in number of applications being processed by USCIS. They are working to determine whether the attention drawn by applying for a VAWA or U-Visa will attract negative attention, putting a victim at risk of investigation. While these factors do raise additional barriers to reporting, there are still supports in place that offer free and confidential assistance. Domestic Violence advocates are being trained to handle clients without documentation in a manner that attempts to minimize the involvement of immigration law enforcement. It is not impossible to gain independence from an abuser, one must be smart and know who is on their side with their best interest at heart.

Refer to the following website to search for local domestic violence programs in your area. http://www.icadv.org/services-in-iowa

Des Moines has domestic violence programs available to cater to specific races/ethnicities:

Asians: (866) 881-4641

Africans: (866) 881-4641

Latinas: (866) 256-7668

National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233

Intersectionality: Domestic Violence and Immigration

spotlightHello readers! We apologize for our year long hiatus, but things have been progressing quickly with our implementation of the Safe & Together Model. More on that to come!

In the mean time, our new AmeriCorps member, Morgan Roy, has written a wonderful blog on domestic violence and immigration. Welcome to Morgan, and enjoy her article below!

“As we know in child welfare, victims of domestic violence face several barriers when it comes to disclosing their abuse. These could include fear of rejection, less-than-desirable interactions with organizations or law enforcement, and fear of confidentiality being broken. Those who are in the country without proper paperwork face additional barriers to disclosing their victim status and being provided resources. It is a common misconception that undocumented immigrants cannot seek out assistance. Most of these people never reveal the violence that is occurring for fear of being deported. Here is where we bust that myth and provide resources.

I did some research at the website usa.gov/deportation to gain a better understanding of the deportation process. For an undocumented resident to physically be removed from the United States, a report must be made (this can be done by anyone.) After this, the case would be formed and read in the U.S. Department of Justice: Immigration Courts. If a judge decides that deportation is to proceed, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carries out the removal order.

It is not in the job description of a domestic violence advocate to report people who are here illegally, nor is it the job of hospital staff or school employees to file a report. While it is being pushed for law enforcement to identify undocumented immigrants upon intake, this does not mean that the end result will be deportation. Under U.S. law, any crime victim can call the police for help or obtain a protection order (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). Anyone may call 9-1-1 if in an unsafe situation and make a report to law enforcement.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recognizes domestic violence among undocumented citizens. Per their website, “A battered spouse, child or parent may file an immigrant visa petition under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).” This amendment allows qualified spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents (Green Card holders) to file a petition in order to gain safety and independence from their abuser. It is important to note that the perpetrator is never notified about the filing. Individuals looking to file must fill out Form I-360 and provide all documentation to support the case. Upon approval, individuals could be eligible for a Green Card. This website has information pertaining to qualification requirements and access to Form I-360.

An alternative to the petition process is an application for a U Visa. This option has a broader list of criminal activities against a victim, which includes, “Rape, torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation […]” (American Immigration Council, 2012). These activities must have violated U.S. laws, or taken place in the U.S. One major factor that sets this visa aside from the previously discussed selection is that the victim must be cooperative in aiding a federal, state, or local investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also has a page that covers basic protections under civil and criminal law, regardless of citizenship status.

  • The right to obtain a protection order for you and your child(ren).
  • The right to legal separation or divorce without the consent of your spouse.
  • The right to ask for custody of your child(ren) and financial support: this includes child support.

When a parent files the petition, they are subject to the family preference system. In regards to the Immigration and Nationality Act, family-based visas can be permitted to immediate relatives or distant familial relationships, under the right circumstances. According to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, the spouse of the U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and their children, provided they are under the age of 21 and unmarried, are qualified for the Immediate Relative Immigrant Visa. The Family Preference Immigrant Visa goes on to include a wide range of family members that qualify. It is important to note that the Family Preference visas are limited in quantity per fiscal year. The American Immigration Council published an article discussing alternative forms of immigration relief, one being Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This is available to non-citizen minors who were abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. Eligibility requirements mandate that the child must be under 21, unmarried, and deemed suitable by a juvenile court.”

-Morgan Roy, AmeriCorps Member

High School and Restraining Orders

spotlightEven though our AmeriCorps member Evan Abramsky completed his term in November, we will be honoring him by posting some blogs he completed during his time with us. Thanks, Evan!

 

It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million high school students in the US are the victims of intimate partner violence each year. Protections for minors often vary from state to state; unfortunately, Iowa’s laws place greater burdens and restrictions on minors seeking protection than many other states. It has been found that those aged 16 through 24 are at the highest risk of violence in the US, which makes this limitation even more troubling. In fact, according to research conducted by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), it is estimated that one in three adolescents is the victim of physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual violence! According to the Iowa Dept. of Education, there are more than 150,000 students enrolled in Iowa high schools; assuming the NCCD’s estimate is correct, that means more than 50,000 Iowa students are at risk of intimate partner violence, but may lack the opportunity to independently use key tools in protecting themselves.

In states that offer more protections for minors, like California, those as young as 12 years old can independently file for a restraining order. However, in Iowa, a victim must be at least 18 before she can be afforded the same basic protection. Limiting restraining orders to those at least 18 years of age severely limits the options available to Iowa high school students who are the victims of stalking or abuse by an intimate partner.

In addition, in Iowa, if a minor wishes to file a restraining order, they require the permission of a parent or legal guardian. This unnecessarily restricts the number of adults available to aid a minor who is seeking a restraining order, and would be particularly difficult for a minor victimized by a parent or legal guardian. Michigan allows for minors to receive the legal support of “next friends” in applying for a restraining order, a legal term referring to trusted adults, like teachers, counselors, or family friends. Such a program greatly expands the field of potential supports that a victim can seek, and can only serve to benefit

In order to expand the rights of Iowa high school students that are made the victims of intimate partner violence, it’s important that state advocates take action. We should make the effort reach out to our local legislators to petition for the lowering of the restraining order age and the creation of a similar “next friend” system for those left unprotected. There may be as many as 50,000 Iowa high school students that could benefit from reforms to the Iowa legal system. Let’s bring our state up to date.

The Importance of Valid Measures of Domestic Violence

spotlightPlease enjoy another guest blog from our AmeriCorps Member, Evan Abramsky – we only have a month and a half left of his term, so please enjoy his thoughts while you can! Thanks for your service, Evan!

 

This past month, I was referred to several sets of research on intimate partner violence, all of which came to some very surprising and questionable findings. The studies all concluded that bidirectional violence (between both partners) was overwhelmingly the most common form of IPV reported by large samples of couples. Among couples that reported unidirectional violence, women were twice as likely as men to be perpetrators. Immediately, I greeted the findings with skepticism, and upon further review, discovered the researchers’ key flaw across their studies: a failure to validly measure IPV.

In constructing social science research, one of the trickiest projects is creating measures that are both reliable and valid. While the two terms may sound like synonyms, they are actually quite distinct. A reliable measure will record the same responses from an individual each time that individual is measured, without meaningless fluctuations. A valid measure, on the other hand, must actually measure the concept we are attempting to study. For example, if I’m attempting to measure gender and I decide to do so using an individual’s height, I would be using a measure this technically reliable (their height won’t change between measurements), but is completely invalid.

There are many reliable tests and surveys designed to study intimate partner violence, however, they are often invalid measures of the true weight of the violence and this poses serious problems to creating effective IPV policy. For many researchers, it is convenient and reliable to administer a survey of the types of violence employed by abusers in an attempt to understand IPV, which is the basic methodology of surveys like the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), and then use the results to draw conclusions on the frequency of domestic violence in a population. However, such a methodology is not valid, making the results of such a study questionable at best. This can be dangerous for IPV response policy, as it may overstate the relative occurrence of violence among women, while fueling arguments that are counterproductive to our understanding of IPV.

The results of such measures are invalid because they fail to fully grasp the nature of intimate partner violence. IPV is not the simple use of violence against an intimate partner; it is a pattern-based perpetration of coercive control that must be properly contextualized to understand. An isolated incident of a wife throwing a plate in anger, is not intimate partner violence. A husband repeatedly coming home and bombarding his wife with dishes, is. However, a survey like CTS would say that both are so.

It is also extremely important that measures account for more subtle and complicated forms of violence, such as sexual violence and psychological violence. These are often parts of a perpetrator’s pattern of control, depriving the victim of any decent treatment or sense of self-worth. Surveys that neglect to include sexual or psychological violence miss a major aspect of the IPV mechanism of control.

For those working in the intimate partner violence field or directly researching IPV, it is important that we remain vigilant of these distinctions in scientific methodology. It is also important that we apply new measures of violence that attempt to contextualize the frequency, severity, and initiation of IPV. These measures should take  into account the violence’s situational aspects, woman’s history and perception, cultural aspects, and more comprehensive set of demographic factors.

Coercive control patterns are often hidden beneath the surface of seemingly non-violent actions—a glance, the cracking of knuckles, a sharp exhale—and those studying and working with IPV survivors and perpetrators must recognize these for the non-verbal controlling threats they are.

We must always ask the question: is this the whole story?

Safe and Together Model CAP Academy

spotlightPlease enjoy this update on last week’s Academy from AmeriCorps member Evan Abramsky!

Last week, a four-day Safe and Together Academy Training was hosted at the Iowa State Capitol as a part of our ongoing efforts to educate domestic violence caseworkers and staff in the Safe and Together model of child welfare-informed domestic violence response. By completing the training, the attending staff became certified Connect and Protect Members, ready to implement the Safe and Together model into state and regional practice. The training sessions were led by the model’s founder, David Mandel, and his associate and national trainer, Kyle Pinto. Both of them did amazing jobs inspiring the more than 40 workers and staff who attended to rethink the traditional philosophy of victim-based domestic violence response that fails to hold perpetrators accountable for their decisions.

David Mandel and his associates have decades of first-hand experience in the domestic violence and child welfare fields, and are thus acutely aware of the important nexus between them. David and Kyle effectively challenged many widely-held beliefs regarding the influence of domestic violence on the livelihood of children, reinforcing that domestic violence is in fact a parenting choice and children are also victimized, both directly and indirectly, by such choices. They also emphasized the importance for caseworkers and staff of mapping perpetrators’ patterns of behavior and engaging with perpetrators, as opposed to victims, when working to end the violence.

David Mandel led the first two days of the Academy Training, beginning day one with a pre-test that would later be compared to post-training test in order to determine the training’s efficacy and impact. Following the pre-test, David introduced some of the basic components of the Safe and Together model to the attendees, including the concepts of the “Domestic Violence Continuum” and perpetrator pattern-based approach. On day two, David shifted the focus to applying the concepts discussed during day one into the practical aspects of interviewing survivors and documenting information from a perpetrator pattern-based approach, and gave attendees several opportunities to practice their new skills within groups of their peers.

National Trainer Kyle Pinto led the last two days of the Academy Training. Kyle focused day three on learning to effectively map a perpetrator’s individual pattern of coercive control in order to better determine the extent of his control over the family and any harm he may have inflicted on the child; understanding a perpetrator’s pattern of control is key to pursuing actions that truly keep the survivor and child safe from harm. The final day of the Academy Training concentrated on recognizing the strengths of domestic violence survivors in their efforts to protect children from domestic violence in order to foster more trustworthy, reliable relationships between caseworkers, and the survivors and children they seek to protect.

With the end of the training, Iowa gained 43 new and enthusiastic Connect And Protect (CAP) Members trained in the Safe and Together model, and prepared to begin transforming practice throughout the central service region. While it will likely take years before the majority of state staff are familiar with the model and its tools, last week marked a promising beginning for the roll-out, which in time is sure to radically bolster Iowa’s success in protecting families by ending the scourge of domestic violence.

Over the course of the next few months, we will host two additional two-day supervisory trainings and ten one-day community trainings throughout the state that will inform casework supervisors and staff alike in the basic concepts and components of the Safe and Together model. You can find dates and locations for the coming trainings below!

Supervisory III Training, Waterloo, 9/9 – 9/10

Supervisory IV Training, Storm Lake, 9/16 – 9/17

Community – Western Training, Council Bluffs, 10/21

Community – Western Training, Sioux City, 10/22

Community – Eastern Training, Burlington, 10/26

Community – Eastern Training, Davenport, 10/27

Community – Cedar Rapids Area Training, Cedar Rapids, 10/28

Community – Cedar Rapids Area Training, Ottumwa, 10/29

Community – Northern Training, Waterloo, 11/9

Community – Northern Training, Fort Dodge, 11/10

Community – Des Moines Area Training, Des Moines, 11/12

Community – Des Moines Area Training, Des Moines, 11/13

Child Safety Trumps Spousal Immunity

spotlight Please enjoy another insightful post from our AmeriCorps member, Evan Abramsky.

Disclaimer: This is not an article about Donald Trump, however, I have to thank the Donald for inspiring this discussion.

Over the last few weeks, the nation has been captivated by the rise of Donald Trump to the position of front-runner in the Republican Party’s long list of candidates seeking the party’s nomination, regardless of his inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants, Senator John McCain, and countless others. As a potential nominee, the media has begun to thoroughly comb over Trump’s past, and recently unearthed allegations of rape that were made against Mr. Trump by his ex-wife, Ivana Trump in 1989. In an interview last week, Michael Cohen, a close adviser of Donald Trump, was questioned about these allegations by a reporter from The Daily Beast. In response, Cohen denied the allegations on the pretense that “you cannot rape your spouse.”
Mr. Cohen’s comments are of course blatantly incorrect, but are valuable for shedding light on an issue that many fail to think about or even accept as possible: spousal rape. Regardless of whether or not the allegations against Donald Trump are accurate, they do have many in the media discussing the issue, which can only help to raise greater awareness.
Little research has been done to determine the prevalence of spousal rape—in fact, only two studies of the issue have been conducted: one in San Francisco, and another in Boston. According to the studies, approximately 1 in 10 married women were victims of spousal rape. It is well established by other studies that approximately 30% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a male lover, and that the chances of spousal rape and sexual assault are significantly increased when domestic violence is present. These are not isolated incidents, as the data indicates that a large majority of victims reported multiple incidents of rape. It is not clear whether those statistics differ significantly amongst social groups, as further research is necessary.
For those working in the domestic violence field, it is key to consider the possibility of sexual abuse in domestic violence cases as another tool in the perpetrator’s pattern of behavior and that if it is determined that sexual abuse is present, proper medical and legal services be notified. Spousal rape can also occur in the presence of children and children can be forced into participating by a perpetrator, as child abuse and domestic violence are often interconnected.

Information and resources regarding spousal rape can be found at RAINN, Pandora’s Project, and Aphrodite Wounded.

Domestic Violence Continues to Plague LGBTQ Community

spotlightAnother guest blog by our DV AmeriCorps Member, Evan Abramsky. Thanks, Evan!

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most significant decisions in history. In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled that no state could legally deny the right to marry for same-sex couples based on their sexual orientation. This represents a major step forward for advocates of LGBT rights, and it should be celebrated. However, the LGBT community still has a great deal more work to do before victory can be declared. One area in which significant work remains is in how domestic violence prevention and response agencies handle violence in same-sex relationships.

Over the last 30 years, advocates have been successful at bringing the hidden epidemic of domestic violence out into the open. Through effective advertising campaigns, public policy work, and the expansion of available supports for victims, domestic and sexual violence are no longer taboo topics that are expected to remain in the home. While these efforts have raised significant awareness for female victims of domestic violence at the hands of violent males, many in the LGBT community argue that more work must be done to create visibility for domestic violence victims in same-sex relationships.

According to the National Violence Against Women survey, the prevalence of domestic violence amongst males in same-sex relationships was approximately five times higher than that of males opposite-sex relationships (35.4% as opposed to 7.1%, respectively). For women in same-sex relationships, the rate of domestic violence was slightly higher than that of women in opposite-sex relationships (21.5% versus 20.4%, respectively). A study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health determined that 34.6% of members of the transgender community were victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes. These are significant disparities that will require a lot of hard work to resolve.

The LGBT community faces a unique set of issues when it comes to domestic violence. Many LGBT victims fear being outed if they seek help. Others fear that by reporting the violence, they will generate negative sentiments toward same-sex relationships and the greater LGBT community. Still others are unsure how responders may handle a domestic violence report if they were to call emergency services. The combination of these issues has forced domestic violence within same-sex relationships to remain a taboo subject within the LGBT community, while similar violence within opposite-sex couples has garnered national attention.

Thankfully, work can and is being done on local and national levels to create a less heteronormative standard of domestic violence. Training for responders to domestic violence is slowly expanding to be more sensitive to same-sex couples. Local supports and shelters are beginning to evaluate their policies so as to allow for greater anonymity for gay victims who do not wish to be inadvertently outed when seeking assistance.

As the LGBT community continues to gain wider acceptance around the country, so too must the notion that anyone can become a victim of domestic violence. While the legalization of same-sex marriage represents a major milestone for the LGBT community, we must not lose sight of the greater goal: the equal protection of all Americans, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Workers in the domestic violence field can be key allies for LGBT victims in their communities. By maintaining strict confidentiality with LGBT clients, becoming familiarized with the unique issues and supports of the LGBT community in your area, working to fill resource gaps for LGBT community members, and disregarding the heteronormative stereotypes of domestic violence, you can more effectively serve those in your community who need your help.

-Evan Abramsky

 

Abused Emojis May Send the Wrong Message

spotlightAnother fabulous post from AmeriCorps member, Evan Abramsky!

It’s unfathomably difficult for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse to express to friends and family just what it is that they are experiencing. In an attempt to make communication of the situation and the feelings it brings easier for victims, Swedish charity BRIS (“Children’s Rights in Society”), has created the “Abused Emojis” app for iOS devices. The app contains 15 abused emojis that share the style and aesthetics of the emojis that come preinstalled with iOS, but with far more tragic representations. For example, one familiar, bright-yellow “distressed” emoji features a visible bruise around it’s left eye. Another depicts an angry father with a glass of red wine looming over a subordinate young girl.

While the idea behind the app is certainly well-intentioned, I have several apprehensions in regards to the BRIS’s Abused Emojis. To begin, in regards to compatibility, the app is only available for Apple’s iOS devices (including the iPhone and iPad). According to data collected by Forrester Research, the average household income of iPhone users is approximately $105,200 per year. Users of Google’s Android mobile operating system, for which the Abused Emojis are not available, have an average household income of $89,300–almost $16,000 less, on average. There is a significant amount of research indicating that, while domestic violence is present in every level of socioeconomic class, higher income households tend to have lower rates of domestic violence. By limiting the availability of the Abused Emojis app to iOS users only, BRIS is missing the opportunity to assist a sizeable portion of mobile users who may be at a higher risk of domestic violence.

Another issue I have with the Abused Emojis app regards the nature of emojis as a communication tool. While they are certainly helpful in communicating emotion in casual, whimsical conversation, it’s unclear how appropriate of a tool emojis are in communicating far more serious circumstances, like suicidal thoughts, self-harm, alcoholism, and child abuse, all of which are depicted in the Abused Emojis app.

Finally, Abused Emojis runs the risk of making depictions of domestic violence into comical relief for those who may wish to misuse the app. One particular abused emoji that itself has already shown signs of being abused for “comedic” purposes depicts a sad boy with the infamous poop emoji on his head. While the emoji was likely intended to symbolize a serious feeling of low self-worth which often accompanies victims of domestic violence, it’s use of the whimsical poop emoji gives the emoji a less than serious character. Already, users of the Abused Emoji app have taken up using the offending emoji for a host of imaginative situations that fail to capture the truly down-trodden feelings that accompany consistent rounds of battery.

The Abused Emoji app is by no means a terrible idea, however. There is no debate: the representations are mostly unsettling and certainly are effective at portraying different forms of domestic violence. But will they truly make it easier for victims to speak up, as they are intended? This author is skeptical–at least when it comes to the communication of situations and emotions to friends and family. It is more likely that the Abused Emoji app could find use in a clinical or professional setting, perhaps in assisting victims in expressing to their psychologist or therapist what they have experienced or in notifying a social worker of violent incidents when they occur. However, in the context of a conversation amongst friends or family, I doubt the Abused Emoji app could ever replace the thoughts and feelings a victim would need to communicate when discussing their experience with domestic violence, sexual violence, or child abuse. Whether or not the app finds a use between social workers and victims of domestic violence, only time will tell…

– Evan Abramsky

Guest blog: Safe at Home Act Passes

spotlight

Please enjoy another guest blog from our AmeriCorps member, Evan Abramsky. He has a passion for policy/legislation and is a talented writer. We are lucky to have him!

In case you missed it, Iowa has just become one of a growing number of states to pass legislation offering survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and human trafficking the opportunity to make their addresses confidential. The legislation, known as the Safe at Home Act, will offer survivors’ the option to make their physical addresses confidential to the public. Survivors will be granted a designated mailing address that can be used as a legal address for all public and private records.

The legislation is designed to protect survivors from the retribution of abusive partners–a significant risk for survivors who are able to escape abusive relationships. It’s estimated that 75% of all domestic violence-related murders occur shortly after a couple separates. In order to be eligible for the Safe at Home program, an applicant must be a resident of the state of Iowa and a victim of domestic abuse, domestic abuse assault, sexual abuse, stalking, or human trafficking.

In order to cover the costs of the new program, two new surcharges have been established. A one-hundred dollar surcharge will be levied on those found guilty of domestic assault, sexual abuse, stalking, and human trafficking. Those found to have violated a domestic abuse protective order will also face a fifty dollar surcharge.

The Safe at Home Act will be effective January 1, 2016, after which an application will be made available for the program by the secretary of state. It’s strongly encouraged that those who are fearful of retribution and wish to have their address made confidential apply for the program then.

Guest Blog: Dating Violence Legislation

spotlightThis week, we will be hearing from AmeriCorps member and Iowa State University sophomore, Evan Abramsky. Evan began with us recently, and has begun to work with me on issues around domestic violence and child welfare. Thanks to Evan for his blog and his help with the program!

“When considering domestic violence, it’s easy to neglect to consider the issue in its entirety—as a pervasive issue that can afflict any form of intimate relationship, anywhere. According to data provided by LoveIsRespect.org, an organization created through a partnership between the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Break the Cycle, “[e]ight states currently do not include dating relationships in their definition of domestic violence,” one of which is the state of Iowa.

However, it appears that is about to change. Earlier this month, the Iowa Senate unanimously passed a bill, labelled as Senate File 300, which would update the state’s criminal code so as to formally criminalize domestic and sexual assault within a dating relationship. So far, the bill has received bipartisan support in the General Assembly and its chances in the House of Representatives appear optimistic, at least.

How would this bill impact the legal opportunities of domestic violence survivors in seeking justice, one might ask? As of now, domestic violence that occurs in dating relationships is punishable only under the state’s civil code, meaning criminal penalties cannot be levied on offenders by a state prosecution; instead, a survivor seeking to prosecute her abuser under the law is left on her own to seek private justice through a lawsuit in the state’s civil courts.

This creates a series of unnecessary social and economic hurdles and burdens for survivors, simply because the domestic violence did not occur in a married or co-habitating relationship.”

-Evan Abramsky