Thursday, October 2, 2014

Melissa Melendez: State Needs Tougher Domestic Violence Laws

By Melissa Melendez, California State Assemblymember (R—Lake Elsinore)

Over the last month, America’s favorite sport has provided a spotlight on one of America’s oldest cultural blemishes – domestic violence.

The catalysts and reasons for domestic violence are numerous. For some, it is a part of a broader struggle with substance abuse, while for others it is just the way that they were raised.

The very sad fact remains that people are abused because their abuser knows that not only are they likely to get away with it, but that the consequences – both legal and societal – are not large concerns.

Let me speak plainly. That last fact is our fault.

Causes come and go, some last for a second like the adorable and touchingly unifying Batkid in San Francisco or the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that swept the nation. Others continue on for years, like the Susan Komen Breast Cancer charity juggernaut.

However, what strikes me as odd is that periodically a famous person will abuse a partner or a child, the press will cover it, and then move on. Indeed, the abuser often faces few consequences if any. This problem is endemic of a society that is uncomfortable reconciling its patriarchal and antiquated roots with its ever-burning pledge of total equality for all.

The good news is that society seems to be coming around. We must not squander this opportunity as a society to protect ourselves, our children and coming generations from falling prey to this seemingly institutionalized practice.

For my part, I will author legislation to make it clear that California will not tolerate domestic violence. In my freshman term in the Legislature, I learned that loopholes for domestic abusers are ubiquitous in California. I am proud that last session we successfully closed a legal loophole in California that forced domestic violence survivors to pay alimony payments to their former abusers.

However, as is typical with any societal scourge needing to be conquered, we must make a multi-faceted attack from every angle. That is why, provided I still have the honor of serving my constituents after Election Day, I plan on authoring legislation that fixes a glaring flaw in California’s domestic abuse sentencing laws. Under the current California Penal Code, after a second conviction of misdemeanor spousal battery, there is mandatory 48-hour jail period that can only be waived by the presiding judge for “good cause.”

I will propose that the penal code be changed to provide for a mandatory five day jail sentence with up to a one year jail sentence to be exercised at the judge’s discretion. For many trapped in an abusive relationship, it can be hard to attain the requisite separation needed to break the cycle of violence. In many cases, the abuser wears the mask of a loved one and has a form of control over their victim who cannot escape.

I understand that I will be met by opposition from those who do not support mandatory minimum sentences. Prison and jail overcrowding is also a factor to be considered, but the laws on the books already recognize that a repeat offender needs to be removed from the public, thereby lessening his or her intimidating influence.

It cannot be denied that 48 hours falls woefully short when you put yourself in the shoes of a victim.

I also plan to work with my colleagues to identify other ways we can strengthen the law to protect victims of domestic violence either through legislation or other means. With the help of the California Legislature we can send a loud message that California will no longer tolerate domestic violence.

As a mother to my daughter and as the daughter of an abused mother, this is a change I hope we can make for all the victims across the state.

Melissa Melendez (R—Lake Elsinore) represents the 67th District in the California State Assembly. She served in the United States Navy with honor and distinction as a Russian translator for ten years during the height of the Cold War, and flew covert missions during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During that time, she also attended college full-time in the evenings, and received her BA in History and Political Studies from Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii. Assemblymember Melendez serves as Vice Chair of the Public Safety Committee, and serves on several others.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

There’s a reason you cannot get away from the story of Ray Rice, NFL running back who assaulted his then-fiancĂ© and now-wife. Why has the video been played and replayed, and the incident rehashed over and over, across social media, print media, and television outlets? Yes, Rice is a multimillionaire and celebrity sports figure. But there is a bigger picture explanation: the issue resonates with people.

Domestic violence (DV) affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. DV victims make up over one-fourth of CalVCP applications annually. It’s a pervasive problem that takes victims of any age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background, and it needs to be more effectively addressed. In Rice’s case, delayed punitive actions and tendency towards victim blaming on social media have raised a number of concerns about the way our culture views and perceives domestic violence:

  • Why weren’t citizens outraged when Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges in March? Why did it take tangible video proof to wake the nation to the realities of this crime? And how can we better support survivors and uphold victims’ rights from the get go?
  • Janay Palmer chose to stand by her man and blamed the media for ruining her husband’s career. Her decisions, which led to a fury of criticism, also sparked a worldwide Twitter dialogue in which thousands of victims shared their perspectives using the hashtag #WhyIStayed (and subsequent spinoff hashtag #WhyILeft). Rather than victim blaming, how can we better understand the dynamics of DV and the psychology of abuse?
  • Law enforcement revealed they provided video evidence to the NFL in April, yet Rice wasn’t terminated until TMZ leaked the clip in September. What does this say about society’s tolerance of DV? That it’s more important to uphold a public image than to obtain justice for victims?
  • Rice and Palmer are now married. This prompts the question: Can an abuser be reformed and proceed to have a healthy relationship?

The complex nature of domestic violence makes it a difficult subject to tackle, but—as social media has already demonstrated—together, we can change attitudes and inspire positive action. This October, CalVCP joins millions across the nation in commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As the state’s leading advocate for victims’ rights, we recognize this annual observance as an opportunity to raise awareness, support survivors, and move forward in the fight to end domestic violence.

In support of our DVAM theme, Domestic Violence Knows No Boundaries, CalVCP has released a DVAM Resource Kit. You can be part of the conversation and help educate your communities about the far reaching effects of DV by:

  • Sharing DVAM graphics and web banners online and in email signatures
  • Using the #DVAM hashtag on Twitter
  • Posting provided DV awareness facts on social media
  • Distributing CalVCP’s DV Fact Sheet
  • Printing and hanging DVAM posters and fliers

Domestic violence is not just a personal or family problem but a widespread issue that ripples across entire communities. This October, I hope you will join CalVCP in supporting domestic violence victims and survivors and taking a stand against this pervasive crime.

Julie Nauman is the Executive Officer for the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB). VCGCB provides compensation for victims of violent crime and helps to resolve claims against the State.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reaching Victims in the Social Sphere

What do the 1.3 billion active Facebook users have in common? Or the 645 million Twitter, 300 million LinkedIn, and 200 million Instagram users? They make themselves reachable. Marketers have known this for years, and have taken advantage by aggressively targeting consumers through their social media networks. There is no doubt that social media provides great potential to reach specific audiences, and the California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) is demonstrating how government agencies can tap into this digital dialogue to better serve their citizens.

CalVCP processes over 50,000 applications for services to victims and survivors of crime each year, an average of almost 1,000 each week. Still, nearly half of violent crimes are never reported — that’s almost 50% of victims who are not represented in published statistics. How can we reach these hidden populations? Enter social media. While CalVCP continues to conduct traditional outreach through advertising, PSA's, event participation and the like, we recognize the importance of joining the online discussion to better assist victims of crime.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stand With Your Neighborhood on National Night Out

Tonight, on the 31st anniversary of National Night Out (NNO), communities and neighborhoods across the nation will stand together to promote crime prevention awareness, safety, and neighborhood unity. August 5th is “America’s Night Out Against Crime,” an annual observance highlighting the importance of police-community partnerships and citizen involvement in our fight for a safer nation.

The National Night Out campaign is designed to:
  • Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness;
  • Generate support for, and participation in, local anti-crime programs;
  • Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and
  • Send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
National Night Out 2013 brought together over 37.8 million people in 16,242 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities, and military bases worldwide. NNO activities include front porch vigils, block parties, cookouts, parades, festivals, visits from local officials and law enforcement, safety fairs, and youth events. National Night Out 2014 is expected to be the largest yet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse in California

By Heidi Richardson, Program Specialist, Sacramento County Adult Protective Services

A young woman and her 89 year-old great-grandmother, who barely weighed 90 lbs., entered the bank to withdraw cash from the older woman’s account. As they left, the teller watched the young woman treating the older woman harshly while impatiently pushing her into the car. The teller reviewed the account and found suspicious transactions. She reported her concerns to APS. When APS visited the home, they found a malnourished and isolated woman with serious untreated medical conditions and almost no food in the home. She required hospitalization.

The National Elder Mistreatment Study found that one in ten adults over age 65 reported experiencing at least one form of mistreatment — emotional, physical, sexual or potential neglect — in the past year.
The case described above is an example of a report investigated by Adult Protective Services (APS). In fiscal year 2012/13, APS programs in California received 125,653 reports of financial abuse, physical abuse, neglect, isolation, abandonment, abduction, and psychological abuse of elders and dependent adults. County APS agencies investigate these reports and arrange for services such as advocacy, counseling, money management, out-of-home placement, or conservatorship. APS can connect victims with medical providers, community services, and trusted family members in hopes of helping the older or dependent adult regain their health and independence.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Beyond the Physical Damage of Violent Crime

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

It has been said that pain and suffering are natural elements of the universal human condition. Most of us will experience some degree of trauma in our lifetime, but our responses to that trauma will vary significantly based on a variety of factors including genetics, disposition, temperament, and early home life. Mental health professionals cannot pinpoint a single, universal reason that some victims display more resilience to the crippling effects of trauma; however, they do know that there is a strong link between violent crime and ensuing psychological distress. For this reason, mental health services can be a critical resource for victims.

On the heels of recent tragedies like the Isla Vista shooting and the Reynolds High attack in Troutdale, OR, it is certainly important to consider the factors that may cause criminal conduct and to address the role of our mental health system in violence prevention; yet, it is equally important to address the well-being of victims and to recognize the host of mental health challenges they face as a result of violent crime.

Over one-third of California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) payouts are mental health-related. Last year, the program provided over $21 million to crime victims for mental health expenses alone, proof that physical injury is far from the only major impact of violent crime.

CalVCP Staff Psychologist Dr. James Kent explains that violent crime leaves behind not just tangible scars, but also serves as a mental reminder that the world isn’t as orderly and safe as we’d like to believe. As victims attempt to cope with the aftermath of a violent crime, they may experience debilitating psychological and emotional effects that persist long after physical wounds have healed. According to Dr. Kent, symptom responses can include anxiety, depression, diminished self-esteem, self-fault, increased dependence, feelings of incompetence. Victimization can also result in shock, numbness, denial, hyper-vigilance, anger or irritability, detachment or estrangement of others, memory loss or forgetfulness, sleeping disorders, and recurring flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. Child victims have been known to suffer long-term mental health effects leading to poor academic performance, aggression, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse.

CalVCP is dedicated to assisting victims with expenses related to inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment that is necessary as a direct result of a qualifying violent crime. In addition, minors who suffer emotional injuries from witnessing a violent crime may be eligible for up to $5,000 in mental health counseling. This filing status can be especially valuable in instances such as school shootings, when a minor witness is not related to the victim but was in close proximity to the crime. By providing financial assistance and resources, CalVCP strives to promote healing and allow victims the opportunity to restore their lives to their fullest potential.

To learn more about the mental health benefits available through CalVCP, watch our Victim Services Talk Series (Ep. 4, "Mental Health Services for Victims") or visit our Victim Issues webpage.

Julie Nauman is the Executive Officer for the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB). VCGCB provides compensation for victims of violent crime and helps to resolve claims against the State.

Friday, June 27, 2014

9 Ways You Could Be Inviting Cybercrime

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

We teach our children to use the buddy system. We remind them to look both ways before crossing the street. We instruct them not to accept gifts from strangers. But one of the most dangerous threats of all lies in the place many of us consider to be the safest: our own home.

Despite all of the precautions we take to protect our families and safeguard our residences, none of us are immune to the risks of the internet. Our computers, smartphones, and tablets allow us to access boundless information and communicate with people all over the world; unfortunately, these virtual connections also expose our vulnerabilities and leave us open to online predators.

In honor of National Internet Safety Month this June, here are a few common ways that you may be inviting cybercriminals into your home, and what you can do to safeguard yourself and your family from identity theft, fraud, harassment, cyberstalking, and more.