Source: Star-Ledger -
In the wake of Ray Rice’s brutal punch to his fiancée, a number of New Jersey lawmakers have come forward with ideas to help victims of domestic violence.
The latest is to create new courts devoted exclusively to these cases. State Assemblywomen Carolina Casagrande (R-Monmouth) and Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) recently introduced a bill that would establish a three-year pilot program in their two counties.
Much like the proposal to track the worst abusers with GPS devises, this idea looks promising. Casagrande, who has served as a municipal attorney, says that of the majority of domestic violence cases — around 40,000 a year in New Jersey — currently go through our municipal courts.
Imagine a terrified victim, forced to sit nearby her angry abuser, with minimal or no security. Their case may have no public defender, maybe just a prosecutor, and will be handled by a judge who gets only 90 minutes of training in handling domestic violence.
These appearances are often for a charge of simple assault. But by the time that first police call happens, there’s often been a pattern of abuse. We’re missing the opportunity to pull these women out the second we learn of their situation, before it escalates to aggravated assault, serious bodily injuries, or even murder.
Washington D.C. became one of the first places in the country to have specialized domestic violence courts back in 1996. Experts say it substantially increased criminal prosecutions, by making it easier for victims to navigate the system. They could go to one place to get a restraining order — a civil matter — and pursue a criminal prosecution.
That integrated system also prevented judges from issuing overlapping orders, such as a restraining order in civil court, and child visitation rights in criminal court that require an abuser to see the victim.
That complexity makes domestic violence cases different. This is why one stop shopping for victims may be the right answer to help close dangerous loopholes in New Jersey’s system, too.
These proposals are good first steps, but let’s not squander this Ray Rice moment. The Legislature should take the long view on this and hold hearings on a more comprehensive approach to fighting domestic violence, one that sorts out the best way to use precious resources.
More services are needed. Victims need counseling, and legal representation. The state needs more supervised visitation centers where victims can feel safe when abusers are allowed to see their children. And so on.
Still, this bill deserves support. Our hope is that it’s the beginning of a larger conversation.