New state laws offer greater protection in domestic violence cases
In the wake of two recent murder-suicides in the state, domestic violence advocates are hoping that recent changes to Connecticut's domestic violence laws will help prevent any more deaths.
Last Saturday, Saudina Mehovic of Southington, was killed by her ex-husband Nurija Mehovic, who then shot himself. According to reports, Saudina was both shot and stabbed by her former husband.
Just days before that, in Wallingford, police found the bodies of Wendy Warzeniak and Colchester resident Jonathan Graves at Warzeniak's Wallingford home.
Graves reportedly shot Warzeniak, then himself. Police have said the two were dating.
Earlier this month, the General Assembly passed a bill that changes a provision that exempted people in dating relationships from arrest for domestic abuse, requires domestic violence offenders banned from possessing firearms to surrender them to police or a federally licensed firearms dealer and allows people of any age -- including teenagers -- to get a restraining order against an abusive partner.
Currently minors can only secure orders against abusive adults.
It's expected that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will sign off on it. Around the state, those at domestic violence programs cheered the legislation. "It's really exciting," said Susan DeLeon, director of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, and the Umbrella domestic violence program in Ansonia. "This is going to prevent people from dying. It's going to save lives."
The bill stemmed from a legislative task force against domestic violence formed about two years ago. The task force was also behind two packages of domestic violence laws that went into effect last year and, among other things, required employers to allow family violence victims to take paid or unpaid leave.
This latest set of reforms represents more evidence that the state is serious about trying to curb intimate partner abuse said Karen Jarmoc, interim executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The coalition is an umbrella organization to 18 domestic violence services throughout the state, including the Center for Women and Families and The Umbrella. Together, these programs served about 60,000 victims of violence in 2010.
Jarmoc said the piece of legislation dealing with the surrender of firearms is particularly relevant, considering both of last week's murder-suicides involved guns. Currently, offenders have to surrender weapons upon the issuance of a protective or restraining order but they have the option of surrendering them to friends or family members. The new legislation doesn't permit that.
The piece of the bill involving dating violence is also significant, said Debra Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Women and Families.
Under the current law, officers can arrest someone for dating violence, but an arrest isn't mandatory, as it is with other forms of domestic abuse. The new law makes an arrest mandatory. Greenwood said many of the calls to the center's hotline are from young women in dating relationships, so "it's almost unthinkable" that dating violence wasn't in the same category as other forms of domestic abuse.
Dina Elliott, who said she fled an abusive marriage more than 20 years ago, yet still receives counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder through the Bridgeport-based Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County, applauds the legislation.
Her husband's abuse was at first verbal, then turned physical after they married. When she tried to leave him, the violence worsened, culminating in two incidents where he tried to kill her, she said.
She said severity of domestic violence incidents seems to be worsening.
Elliott also saw the dating violence regulation and the one allowing teens to get restraining orders as essential changes. Overall, she said, the new legislation tries to protect more people suffering from abuse, which she applauds.
However, Elliott said the fight against violence isn't one that can be won with legislature. It will take deeper changes -- ones she can't even fully describe herself -- to stop the cycle of abuse entirely.
"Where do you break the chain of what could be considered a violent society?" she said.