Cuomo signs laws to better protect survivors of domestic violence

By Michael Gormley

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo  signed into law Thursday three measures that will make “economic abuse” an element of the crime of domestic violence, give survivors the right to vote by mail, and allow victims to report abuse to any police agency regardless where the crime happened.

One law will include identity theft, grand larceny and coercion as illegal acts under the crime of domestic violence. To be prosecuted as an act of domestic violence, the actions must have “resulted in actual physical or emotional injury or have created a substantial risk of physical or emotional harm to such person or such person’s child,” according to the law’s text.

“Abusers often use economic coercion to keep victims from leaving,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Assemb. Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn).

Another new law will allow victims of domestic violence to apply in person or by mail for an absentee ballot, which traditionally is provided to voters away from their home community on election day. The victim must affirm in the application that “he or she is the victim of domestic violence, that he or she has left his or her residence because of such violence and. … [faces] the threat of physical or emotional harm to himself or herself or to family or household members.”

The law will allow victims to avoid an encounter with their abusers, said another co-sponsor, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island).

“There are times when it is just not safe for a survivor to vote in person in the same county where her abuser resides, but that should not diminish her voice or her vote,” said co-sponsor Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale).

The third law, overwhelmingly supported in the legislature, seeks to avoid cases in which victims flee their community and report abuse to police away from their homes, only to have police say they don’t have jurisdiction to take action.

The law requires that any police agency take a police report, prepare a domestic violence incident report, and provide the victim a free copy of the report. A copy of the police report and domestic violence report would then be sent to the police agency in the victim’s community to investigate and take action. The victim would have to show that it would be a hardship or a danger to return to his or her home community in order to file a police report.

“Individuals will be provided with the ability to report crimes without fear or intimidation by their abuser,” said that bill’s co-sponsor, Assemb. Ken Zebrowski (D-Clarkstown). “This legislation will hopefully lead to an increase in the reporting of domestic violence incidents and will allow victims to promptly leave the area where their abuser is located and get to safety.”

Domestic violence can be prosecuted under several felony laws, which carry penalties of up to 25 years in prison.

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