ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – Should a state registry list domestic violence perpetrators? State legislators, experts and advocates have been wrestling with that question for years.
State Sen. Catharine Young (R,C,I-57) sponsored Brittany’s Law in 2009. The law would create that registry and list all offenders convicted of a felony domestic violence offense. The legislation is in response to the deaths of 12-year-old Brittany Passalacqua and her mother, Helen.
According to Young, Helen dated violent felon John Edward Brown without knowing his history. He’d served 2.5 years for assaulting his infant daughter in 2003. He dated Helen for just a few months before he killed her and her daughter.
“A devastating loss for their family, it was one that could have been prevented if Helen had known the past of the man she was dating,” Young said in a statement. “ … Countless other victims have been lost to domestic violence in the eight years since Brittany’s Law was first passed in the Senate. We will never know how many might have been saved if the protections in this bill were available.”
New York State’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence estimates that partner homicide rose in 2016, but overall, incidents among partners declined.
“The vast majority of domestic violence offenses that occur on a day-to-day basis are at a misdemeanor level,” said Jennifer Sullivan, community programs manager at Willow Domestic Violence Center. She says the registry, as a result, wouldn’t include the bulk of abusers in the state.
“When the police do arrive, not all abusers are actually arrested,” Sullivan said.
And not all of those who are arrested are convicted, she said.
“And even fewer would be convicted of a violent felony because of pleading down and other things that happen in the court system.”
She said the registry can also lead potential partners to have a false sense of security. If they don’t see their partner’s name on the list, they may think they’re safe — but it may only mean that their partner hasn’t been convicted of a felony related to domestic violence.
“It’s reasonable to assume that someone might go on the registry, look up someone’s name and see that their name is not on the list. Then they feel like that they’re safe with them or that the individual isn’t abusive, but that’s actually not what that means,” she said. “All in all, all of these consequences would lead to victims being less likely to come forward and seek help, so it actually winds up decreasing safety and accountability for offenders.”
The legislation has failed every year in the Assembly. Sullivan says a better solution would be to prevent the abuse in the first place. She advocated for more education in schools and at home for small children.