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Domestic Violence

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, speaks about her domestic violence bill as officials look on. Photo by Phil Corso

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) celebrated another milestone victory this week as her most recent efforts to curb domestic violence led to the rehiring of three outreach precinct project caseworkers months after being laid off.

The Long Island Against Domestic Violence non-for-profit organization, which provides domestic violence caseworkers in Suffolk County, did not receive a federal grant to fully staff their outreach project in March, and as a result, was forced to lay off four workers. And while LIADV secured private funding, allowing the rehire of one of the four caseworkers in May, Hahn’s recently passed budget amendment will now provide the organization with $79,000 to rehire the remaining three caseworkers this year.

Although the organization received the federal grant last year, according to Colleen Merlo, executive director of LIADV, its application the following year was denied. Its advocacy department includes seven precinct advocates, two of whom are also full-time court advocates. Victims in need still had the option of calling the organization’s 24-hour hotline at (631) 666-8833 during this time period, however, in the caseworkers’ absence.

Merlo also said the organization reapplied for this same federal grant, since the applications were available under the new funding cycle. The organization will not know if it received the federal grant until October.

Meanwhile, the $79,000 will last the non-for-profit organization until December of this year, Merlo said.

Hahn, alongside Legislators Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) sponsored this bill amendment, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has until July 16 to sign. For Hahn, who said she is a domestic violence survivor herself, this budget amendment will not only help the non-for-profit organization, but also the individuals who benefit from its services.

“I want to help victims get themselves out of violent situations,” Hahn said during a phone interview. While she said she doubts that domestic violence will disappear completely, Hahn said she wants to help these victims know their risks and find advocacy in their times of need.

This was Hahn’s fourth piece of domestic violence legislation to see validation through the county Legislature. Although she would not disclose what is next on her domestic violence agenda, Hahn said Suffolk County is “on the cutting edge” of protecting domestic violence victims. She also said the county will continue to support organizations at the frontline of this issue.

Merlo said non-for-profit organizations like LIADV need funding from multiple levels to successfully provide their services.

“I’m appreciative of the budget amendment,” Merlo said during a phone interview. “But the truth of the matter is that we need to provide our services and we rely on not just the government but private donors as well.”

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If you haven’t yet read The Post and Courier’s “Till death do us part” series of stories on domestic violence in South Carolina, which won a Pulitzer Prize this year, you should. The opening paragraph sets the tone for the series with a shocking statistic: “More than 300 women were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade by men in South Carolina, dying at a rate of one every 12 days while the state does little to stem the carnage from domestic abuse.”

It goes on to say that while “state officials have long lamented the high death toll for women, lawmakers have put little money into prevention programs and have resisted efforts to toughen penalties for abusers.”

The piece is both disturbing and eye-opening, and while South Carolina is different from both New York and the smaller communities of Suffolk County, domestic violence is still a complex issue, and we commend our representatives for not just standing by.

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a pilot program on Tuesday that would provide 30 new GPS tracking devices for family court judges to assign to offenders with an order of protection against them. The program would also allow victims of domestic violence — if they so choose — to wear their own tracking devices so they may be alerted if an offender is near them.

The legislation is the latest brought forth by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and continues to strengthen county laws relating to domestic violence.

While some may question the use of tracking devices, giving the discretion to judges allows us to evaluate each case on an individual basis. That would hopefully limit the GPS system to the most dangerous offenders and prevent us from violating anyone’s constitutional rights. And 30 devices is a small number when looking at the bigger picture — in 2013, there were more than 1,500 violations of orders of protection in Suffolk County.

If assigned appropriately, carefully and conservatively, the devices could help give domestic violence victims a new sense of safety and freedom to live their lives.

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, pitches the pieces of legislation that would employ GPS technology to keep offenders away from domestic violence victims in Suffolk County. Photo from Kara Hahn

The county’s proactive push to empower victims of domestic violence reached another milestone on Tuesday when the Legislature unanimously approved a pilot program that would slap ankle bracelets on offenders under an order of protection.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) ignited the domestic violence discussion last month when the county approved her legislation providing law enforcement and victims with danger assessment tools that identify high-risk offenders. Her efforts turned another corner with Tuesday’s approval of legislation that she called a multi-faceted approach to making Suffolk’s domestic violence policy stronger than it’s ever been.

The latest pieces of legislation make Global Positioning System technology available to electronically monitor those in the family and criminal court systems who are subject to a “stay away” order of protection — which is more restrictive than a “refrain from” order — and pose a continuing threat to the safety of a victim or their children, Hahn said.

“This has been something I’ve wanted to work on since getting here,” said Hahn, whose personal experience as a victim of domestic violence brings the issue to the top of her list of priorities. “One of the things that was important to me was dealing with orders of protection. I had an order of protection and it’s very frightening — and I’ve heard over and over again over the years — that it’s just a piece of paper with no ability to truly protect the victim. That’s what I’m trying to fix.”

Both bills were virtually replicas of one another, but were specific to criminal and family courts respectively.

The county’s district attorney would acquire the GPS units and the offenders would have to cover the cost of monitoring, she said.

Tom Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney, threw his support behind Hahn’s initiative.

“I have every confidence this pilot program will be successful in effectively protecting victims of domestic violence,” he said in a statement.

In 2013 alone, the state division of criminal justice reported that there were more than 1,500 violations of orders of protection in the county. That statistic, coupled with the fact that domestic violence accounted for 21 percent of all violent victimizations nationwide from 2003 to 2012, was what spurred Hahn to bulk up her agenda, she said.

“In my experience as a federal prosecutor, GPS devices serve as a real deterrent,” said Tim Sini, assistant deputy Suffolk County executive. “In the moment of passion, an offender often thinks twice before reoffending when he knows he is being monitored by law enforcement.”

The pilot program would provide the county with 30 new GPS devices to be used when judges assign offenders to an order of protection. The technology could be used in one of two ways — either tracking offenders so they stay away from victims’ homes or jobs, or acting as proximity detectors and letting victims know if an offender is near them. The latter form of tracking would be optional for victims.

“Having been someone who had an order of protection and was afraid that the offender would come, it gives you peace of mind as a victim knowing you could be alerted,” Hahn said. “If a victim doesn’t like it, they don’t have to [wear] it.”

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As a community newspaper, we value reader feedback and welcome any and all letters to the editor on the stories that compel our neighbors. But we received one letter in particular this past week that we felt warranted a larger editorial response.

Last week, we ran a story on Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) spearheading a new law that aims to more aggressively address domestic violence by empowering victims — connecting them with agencies and offering up a self-assessment questionnaire — and analyzing offenders. The bill was approved without a single “nay” in the Legislature, showing the county’s commitment to the issue.

On Monday, we opened up an anonymous letter addressed to the publisher of this newspaper, responding to our domestic violence reporting.

“Women can be opportunists,” the letter started. “If a man just pushes his girlfriend or paramour or even his wife, the next thing you know, she comes to court with a brace on her neck and bandages and a story that complains how she was pushed down a flight of stairs and strangled.”

Our initial reaction to this argument was scoffs and rolling eyes. (And why is this man pushing his partner to begin with?) While some people may have valid concerns over the consequences of tighter domestic violence laws, our anonymous reader’s remarks underscored the very same symptomatic problem, which affects both women and men, that Hahn’s legislation is looking to end in Suffolk County.

“No wonder guys go off the deep end and murder their so-called girlfriends. If I could not see my children, I would be mad as well. Enough to murder — possibly,” the secret letter writer said about custody battles. “Women are so thick-headed, unreasonable and vindictive, especially where money is concerned, that the greed of a woman scorned cannot be fathomed and we, the dads, husbands, boyfriends, are left out in the cold with no recourse.”

The writer asked that this newspaper “do something about these issues.” That is why we chose to dedicate this week’s editorial to his letter — to do something when we are confronted with a disgusting diatribe that condones violence against a group of people.

We hope the county law, still in its infancy, helps shift the train of thought of those like this reader.

Thank you for the letter.

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