SUITLAND – Congressman Anthony Brown announced new legislation to combat domestic violence, and invited advocates to provide comments on it, all on the same day.
Last Wednesday, Brown hosted a roundtable discussion at Community of Hope AME Church, located in Iverson Mall, that brought together domestic violence survivors and advocates to talk about their needs. The District 4 Democrat used the opportunity to announce legislation he has introduced, with 46 co-sponsors, to hopefully provide additional help to law enforcement and victims.
“It’s important because domestic violence is pervasive. It’s found in every community, regardless of race and faith and ethnicity and gender and sexual orientation and nationality, so it’s a challenge that all of us confront,” Brown said.
His family has also been personally touched by domestic violence. In 2008, Brown’s cousin Cathy was shot and killed by an estranged boyfriend.
“I’ve certainly used my cousin Cathy’s murder as an inspiration, if you will, to work with the advocates in the domestic violence community to expand the support services for survivors of domestic violence, to strengthen the laws to go after and identify and prosecute the abusers,” he said.
There are three main provisions of the bill, Brown said. The first would bring to the federal level changes Brown successfully fought for in Maryland: prohibiting those who have a protection order against them from owning firearms. Another provision closes the “boyfriend loophole” in federal law that defines domestic abuse as violence between spouses, cohabiting partners, and people who have a child in common. More than half of the incidences of violence are perpetrated by individuals who don’t live with or share a child with their victim, he said. The third provision would expand the definition of domestic abuse to include stalking.
Many of the advocates at the roundtable expressed their support for those provisions. Melynda Clarke, program administrator at the domestic violence and sexual assault center at Prince George’s Hospital Center, said the boyfriend loophole needs to be addressed to help stop human trafficking.
“We have seen, in cases of human sex trafficking – the reality is that it is an intimate partner relationship because they are usually groomed by the trafficker early on, they are raped early on,” she said. “It’s not necessarily a live-in situation, there’s not necessarily a child involved.”
The panel also provided suggestions for other issues it felt should be addressed. A common theme was that although abusers who have a protective order against them are asked to turn over firearms, the enforcement of this provision lacks teeth because they can get their weapons back if they need it for their job, because it can be difficult for law enforcement to get a search warrant to make sure all guns have been relinquished, and other factors.
Stacey Harvey, a domestic violence survivor, said even though she got a protective order, she felt less safe because of this dynamic.
“I still didn’t feel easy with that because although it may say ‘release all firearms,’ they’re not taking the step to go into the homes to take the firearms out,” Harvey said.
Other suggestions raised by the panel included introducing anti-domestic violence curriculum into schools earlier and improving protections against stalking for the people and organizations who are in the communities providing resources to victims.
Many panelists also thanked Brown for his leadership on the issue, and for hosting the forum, because collaboration among the various entities who are working to combat domestic violence is an important factor in improving outcomes.
“I think one of the strengths and pluses for Prince George’s County is if you go back 10 or 15 years ago the people sitting around this table didn’t know each other,” said Sherriff Melvin High. “(Now) in Prince George’s County and the state, we’re employing best practices that came out of the learning of our association with one another.”
Brown said he hopes this roundtable will be the first in a series, and he can continue to use his role as a congressman to advocate for the cause.
“I always have had the goal, and I will never abandon it, to eliminate domestic violence,” he told the roundtable. “I’m excited that in my new role in Congress, at the federal level, I continue to have an opportunity to work with you as we look for ways to advance what we’re doing in this area.”
As for his legislation, the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act, Brown said although it will be “a very heavy lift” to get it passed, particularly the firearms provision, he already has ideas about how to appeal across the aisle.
“A lot of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, one of their big concerns about domestic violence, in addition to the impacts on the victims, is the risk or danger presented to law enforcement, because when law enforcement respond to domestic violence calls, those are often some of the most dangerous calls,” Brown said. “I’ve been appealing- and I did in Maryland- that, ‘let’s come together, if not solely around the victim but also to support and protect our law enforcement.’ So I think there’s a real opportunity here to find common ground.”