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.