Domestic Violence Bill Would Help Victims With Legal & Housing Issues

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A lawmaker from Westerville wants to help victims of domestic violence go after their abusers in court, without losing their jobs.  She says it would bring Ohio laws in line with at least 25 other states.

In a carpeted family room, amid a pile of soft toys, Alyson...who asked not to use her last name...played with her dog Breeze.  They live alone.  That's how she likes it. She's recovering from the trauma of her last housemate.  She thought he was a friend who needed a place to stay.

"My life changed drastically," she said in a soft voice.

Once he moved in, she said he became violent.  He beat her and imprisoned her in an upstairs bedroom.  Now it is a pleasant place, painted the color of blue skies, and well furnished.  But just over a year ago, she said he left her with just a bed, a chair, and a milk crate attached to the wall. She pointed to nail holes still visible.

"Anything I was allowed to have was there. He denied me access to a telephone, broke my computer, broke all the televisions."

Alyson said her abuser did about $20,000 damage to her house, then stalked her on the job and threatened to kill both her and her co-workers if she told anyone or tried to leave.

"My first instinct was not to come home.  However, I've been in this home for 15 years and I worked very hard to get it.  And my dog was here.  And had I not come home, he would have killed my dog."

Alyson, a former social worker, never dreamed domestic violence would happen to her. Once she spoke to staff at the Columbus City Attorney's Domestic Violence Unit, but was too scared to press charges.  Then after four months of terror and abuse, she had had enough. She gathered her courage and ran to a neighbor.  He a look at her battered face and body, and called both police and the emergency squad.

Alyson's abuser was arrested, charged with abduction and domestic violence, and jailed.

Since then, she has become an expert marksman, and sleeps with a gun next to her bed.

At the Statehouse, Representative Anne Gonzales wants to help victims like Alyson.

"The number's pretty large," she said.

That's the number of domestic violence victims in Ohio each year. The Ohio Attorney-General tracks domestic violence calls and arrests.  In 2012, there were more than 68,000 calls, and more than 41,000 arrests. There also were 68 deaths.

Gonzales, a Republican from Westerville, is sponsoring a bill that would let victims take three to five days of unpaid leave from their jobs to attend to legal issues, such as attending a hearing or seeking a protection order.  It would also permit them to use the time to seek medical attention for domestic violence.  House Bill 297 would ban governments from charging a fee to help domestic violence victims. It also would ease their moves into new housing to escape abusers at the same address.

"To change their locks on their particular unit if they are a victim, of domestic violence. Another issue is allowing them to break the lease," she said.

Gonzales said they are still working out details and talking to interested parties, but she hopes the bill becomes law later this year.

Meanwhile Alyson visits counselors and doctors, and struggles to find her way back to normal.  Her new mission, she said, to help others survive this experience.

"It's like...being a child all over again, and learning how to live," she said.

Alyson's abuser was given 59 days in jail and three years probation.