A slate of new laws aimed at reducing domestic violence in Arkansas will take effect this week. Lawmakers and advocates met at the capitol Monday morning to announce the implementation of the new laws.
Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, a sponsor of two new domestic violence laws, said a lethality screening will now be conducted by officers statewide.
“Some officers might ask the questions but did they have the assessment where it really pointed to what would determine a danger and then what wouldn’t," she said. "They will be mandated to call the hotline so that the victim can get hooked into services right there at the crime scene," she added.
She said she hopes this legislation will help streamline law enforcement response. According to Douglas, more thorough data collection on domestic violence in the state will be a future goal.
The legislation will require law enforcement officers to hand out information cards stating the rights of victims, along with contact information for service providers. Officers will also be required to ask a series of questions to ascertain dangers.
A law sponsored by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, would allow for victimless prosecutions in situations where victims don't feel safe coming forward.
Major George Frye with the Sheriff’s Office in Carroll County said there has been inconsistency between law enforcement agencies across the state in responding to domestic violence. Now officers will routinely fill out a lethality form and explain to victims the danger they may be in.
“We’re going to provide you the information, where you can get help. We’re going to take you to a shelter if necessary. It’s kind of a checklist If somebody does certain things then that person has a propensity for violence and that’s what we want to make sure a victim understands,” he said.
Laura Webb is a domestic violence advocate and survivor who says she would like to see future legislation enhance education and public discourse around domestic violence.
"We want to focus on why does the victim stay. What we need to focus on is how do we get the victim out and why does the abuser abuse? The blame needs to be put on the abuser," she said.
Jo Warren is from the Safe Place Shelter in Morelton, Arkansas. She said she hopes a set of questions will help officers determine risk levels of victims they encounter and give a basis for explaining to victims future risk they may face based on patterns of behavior.
"I believe the lethality form is going to be very important because that's going to put a tool in the officers hands where he can make a very quick assessment," she said. "Sometimes the victim herself is not able to give the information that's needed," she added.
The new laws, passed in the 2015 legislative session, take effect this Wednesday. They include a requirement to teach domestic violence units to seventh through twelfth graders.