Members of the New York State Assembly Minority Conference were in Buffalo Friday morning, announcing the release of their new report on domestic violence. They also explained what they'd like to see accomplished next, including increased services for victims and broader guidelines and definitions for those who prosecute such cases.
The report, known as A Safe Haven: Helping Abuse Victims and Enhancing Protections, was prepared after several weeks of information gathering from regional forums including one hosted in Niagara Falls.
Copies were to be delivered to the Governor, Assembly Speaker and State Senate leadership.
"What we need now is support from everyone," said Joseph Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda), who chairs the Assembly Task Force on Preventing Domestic Violence. "We talked about public information and education campaigns. We need to take it out of the darkness and move it into the light. We need people to be aware of how serious it is."
Lawmakers appearing Friday say some of what was revealed during the fact-finding phase was alarming.
"One out of every four women are afflicted by domestic violence," said Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C,I-Lockport), referring to nationwide numbers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This is a very serious situation across our nation and across the State of New York."
A state statistic included in the report is that from 2015 to 2016, homicides involving intimate partners increased by 22 percent.
Assemblyman Angelo Morinello (R,C,I,Ref-Niagara Falls) served 14 years as a judge, 10 of them presiding over domestic violence cases. He says what most people think domestic violence may be is only a small fraction.
"Most people think of domestic violence as the word 'violence,' physical," he said. "There are many aspects to the concept of domestic violence. There is physical, psychological, emotional, financial, isolation. Each of those, individually, can destroy an individual."
Niagara Falls Police Detective Kathy Stack works in the department's Domestic Violence Unit. She agrees with Morinello's thoughts on the definition of domestic violence and adds that people also may not realize the many different combinations by which it occurs in households.
"It can be siblings, it can be aunts or uncles, it can be grandparents, and also the different types of crimes like damage to property, burglaries and robberies," Stack said. "We've seen a lot of grandchildren that are living with their grandparents and we have a lot of theft because of drug issues."
Updating and more clearly defining "domestic violence" is one of the goals of the Assembly Minority Conference, which plans to introduce several bills to expand guidelines to help law enforcers and advocates who assist victims. One of the measures would be a new category of crime for cases of domestic violence that occur in the presence of children.
"Studies have shown that the cognitive advancement of children is regressed when they are exposed to domestic violence during their formative years," Morinello said. "It affects them throughout life. Additionally, if they experience it physically or if they view it from as early as an age as three months, they are more likely to become an abuser themselves."
Members of the Assembly Minority also plan to introduce legislation to expand access to services aiding victims, including more housing and the ability of courts to order temporary spousal support when a temporary order of protection is issued.
Lawmakers recognized the Erie County Family Justice Center in their report and said Erie and Niagara Counties are "ahead of the curve" with providing comprehensive services in New York State. Another of the bills they plan to introduce would expand the model into a fully-funded statewide system.
"We know everybody walking out our door has everything they need for hope and for healing and for a safe haven," said Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of the Family Justice Center. "The fact that was a recommendation is tremendous because the model works."