Domestic violence victims can be afraid to report. Recognize the signs of abuse
Reports of domestic violence in the United States could be much higher than statistics show, because many victims are often afraid to speak out about the abuse. Pay attention to the signs of domestic violence to know if someone needs help.
Detroit Free Press
Editor’s note: The following guest editorial was submitted to Louisiana’s USA Today Network newspapers by Kim Sport of the United Against Domestic Violence Coalition.
When did being fifth in the nation for domestic violence homicides become acceptable for some Louisiana legislators?
In 2014, the Legislature unanimously passed a bill by former Rep. Helena Moreno that disarmed domestic abusers during the pendency of a protective order issued by a court. The protective order could only be issued following a contradictory hearing when a judge had to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the alleged abuser represents a credible threat to the physical safety of a family member, household member or dating partner.
A protective order is not that same as a temporary restraining order, which can be issued ex parte by a judge before the protective order hearing takes place. There is no firearm prohibition during a temporary restraining order because the alleged abuser must receive reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard sufficient to protect that person’s right to due process.
The 2014 law is part of the Domestic Abuse Assistance Act, the purpose of which is to afford a civil remedy for domestic violence which will afford the victim immediate and easily accessible protection. During that same legislative session, the Legislature passed unanimously a bill by former Sen. J.P. Morrell that would provide for a divorce without a waiting period (as is the case for adultery) if a civil or criminal protective order was issued to protect a spouse or a child of a spouse.
When these laws were passed, Louisiana was ranked second in the nation for domestic violence homicides with nearly 70% occurring when a victim took steps to separate from an abusive relationship. Firearms were used to kill the victim over 65% of the time — even when a protective order has been issued. The same is true today: 60% of protective orders are violated; firearm prohibitions are ignored; jurisdictions fail to uniformly enforce firearm transfer laws passed in 2018; and victims and their children are being shot to death.
And, despite the inconsistencies in arrest and sentencing for violation of protective orders, and enforcement of firearm transfers, Louisiana, based on 2018 statistics from the Violence Policy Center, now ranks fifth in the nation for domestic violence homicides instead of second. This is nothing to be proud of, especially when the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 62 domestic violence homicides occurred in 2021.
Some legislators think that this is good enough. Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, who voted for the dispossession of firearms from abusers in 2014 has apparently had a change of heart. Seabaugh introduced House Bill 464 in the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee this session that would require a judge to find “clear and convincing evidence” of a credible threat to the safety of a victim before a protective order could trigger a firearm dispossession and transfer order to the abuser. The irony is that the protective order could be issued based on a preponderance of the evidence, but the firearm dispossession and transfer order could only be issued based on clear and convincing evidence. Seabaugh’s bill would have given victims a simple piece of paper to protect themselves. A piece of paper is not bullet proof.
Victims’ and advocates’ testimony swayed the Administration of Criminal Justice to kill Seabaugh’s 2022 bill by a 6-5 vote, mostly along party lines. One argument for the bill was that the use of a protective order to immediately divorce an abuser was being “abused” by victims. The second argument made by the Louisiana Shooters Association was that depriving a person of a Second Amendment right required clear and convincing evidence and that Louisiana was making it too easy for victims to get a protective order with only a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, let’s make it harder for victims to get a protective order so abusers can keep their guns.
Notably, the clear and convincing standard Seabaugh was seeking in HB 464 was the same grenade he attempted to toss into Rep. Malinda White’s 2021 bill on the last day of the Legislative Session, after he had voted for the original bill, causing four years of work by the Louisiana State Law Institute and victims’ advocates to be pulled from consideration following an “altercation” between the two legislators on the House Floor.
All of Louisiana’s current domestic violence laws involving firearm dispossession and transfer were vetted and negotiated with the NRA, who has not been represented in recent hearings. Concessions were made with the NRA. Louisiana laws follow existing federal gun laws. There was never a discussion of the preponderance of the evidence standard. You will not find another state which requires clear and convincing evidence for a protective order to disarm an abuser. Not one.
As a matter of fact, Maryland was the last state to require clear and convincing evidence and this was changed in 2014. The Washington Post Editorial Board, January 10, 2014, criticized Maryland’s standard at the time:
“Maryland has long had the dubious distinction of being the only state that imposes a rigid burden of proof for victims of domestic abuse to receive a civil protection order. Maryland’s law governing protective orders is a relic.”
So, why are we writing today? We “won” by defeating Rep. Seabaugh’s HB 464 in the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee. What is the concern that citizens, particularly victims, need to know about?
Rep. Seabaugh and all three of his colleagues (Reps. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, Danny McCormick, R-Oil City and Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette) who voted for his bill in the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee also sit on the Civil Law & Procedure Committee and are attempting a second bite of the apple. HB 1026 by Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, includes the very same provisions that were killed last week. HB 1026 states that the prohibition on the possession of firearms by a person against whom a protective order is issued will only disarm the abuser if the finding of a credible threat to the victim was made by clear and convincing evidence and the court issues written reasons for this finding within 15 days of the court’s ruling. HB 1026 will be heard on Tuesday in Civil Law & Procedure Committee.
After years of passing legislation to make it easier for victims to obtain and feel protected by stay-away orders, legislators beholden to gun rights’ groups want to make it harder for victims. Consider that since 2014, the Legislature passed laws to require interpreters for victims during protective order hearings, to allow all prior acts of domestic abuse to be admissible in the hearings, to allow victims to obtain the criminal history of the abuser from local law enforcement in all civil actions, to prohibit communication with a victim by a defendant during a criminal trial, to issue protective orders with firearm prohibitions following certain stalking convictions, to allow mental health evaluations of alleged abusers, to require abusers to enroll in a court-monitored domestic abuse intervention program, to require courts to order abusers to transfer firearms to local law enforcement, to make certain violations of a protective order crimes of violence. And the list goes on and on.
What has changed? Absolutely nothing, except the willingness of some legislators to put gun possession by abusers ahead of the protection of domestic violence victims. We do not need to replace our many domestic violence reforms with relics of the past.