Earlier this week, four of our Advocates joined hundreds of others at the Georgia State Capitol, to urge Legislators to strengthen Georgia’s existing Family Violence laws.  The 17th annual Stop Violence Against Women Day, drew attention to the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault in Georgia.  The event is sponsored by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, and Mary Kay, Inc.

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Advocates met with Senators and Representatives under the gold dome, and encouraged them to:

Support House Bill 827, to ensure that rape kits are properly handled and tested across the state.

Support Senate Bill 193, to address repeat domestic violence offenders.

Support House Bill 746 and Senate Bill 242, the Family Care Act, to allow workers to use their sick time flexibly.

Support House Bill 702, to provide sentencing relief for battered persons convicted of violent crimes against their batterers.

Support Governor Deal’s budget proposal, for additional civil legal assistance funding for victims of domestic violence with low incomes.

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Legislators were provided information about their local domestic violence programs, as well as an overview of Georgia’s sexual assault programs and domestic violence programs.  Based on the most recent service statistics of these programs, it is clear the need for services to victims is great.  From October 2013 through September 2014, Georgia’s 46 state-certified domestic violence programs, of which Cherokee Family Violence Center is one, provided services to over 30,404 victims and their children and answered nearly 61,415 crisis calls.  During that same time period, Georgia’s 22 state-funded sexual assault programs served 4,456 victims of rape and sexual assault, including 1,931 child victims, and answered over 8,819 crisis calls.

“Stop Violence Against Women Day gives us a chance to talk with legislators to ensure that the much needed funding remains stable, to ask for necessary changes to our laws to improve victim safety, and to share the incredible, life-saving work these programs do with their constituents,” says Jennifer Thomas, Executive Director of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.  Thomas adds, “Current Georgia law should be modified to adequately hold repeat violent offenders of family violence accountable.”

Jan Christiansen, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, agrees, “More and more we are hearing incidents where abusers convicted of a violent family violence felony are being rearrested and charged with misdemeanors. This gap in Georgia law is not increasing victim safety and we urge lawmakers to close this gap.”

GCADV Executive Director Jan Christiansen and GCFV Executive Director Jennifer Thomas on SVAW Day 2016

GCADV Executive Director Jan Christiansen and GCFV Executive Director Jennifer Thomas at the Capitol for SVAW Day 2016

During the day, proclamations about Stop Violence Against Women Day were read in both the Senate and the House.  The group from Cherokee County was present in the House Gallery for the proclamation, which was ready by Cherokee County’s own, Representative Mandi Ballinger, who recognized the attendees of the event.

In an exciting turn of events, the Senate voted unanimously in support of Senate Bill 193, which will strengthen prosecutors’ abilities to hold repeat domestic violence offenders accountable, by closing a gap in existing Georgia law, ensuring that a previous family violence battery conviction against the same victim or any family violence felony conviction against any household member would result in a subsequent family violence battery and would be punished as a felony.  After the vote, cheers erupted in the Capitol, which could be heard on the Senate floor.  The proposed legislation will now move on to the House for their consideration.

If you are interested in following the legislation as it moved through the Capitol this year, check out GCADV’s Public Policy Page and consider joining us for Stop Violence Against Women Day next year.