Taking on Violence Against Women

Taking On Violence Against Women: Executive Summary

Ohio has recently seen incident after incident of high profile, horrible violence against women. From Steubenville, to Cleveland, to domestic violence and sexual assault that occurs every day, Ohio has seen alarming incidents of violence against women. Beneath the headlines, the numbers are stark:

  • 743,000 women in Ohio are rape survivors
  • An estimated one in six Ohio women report having experienced rape or attempted rape
  • One in four Ohio women experience intimate partner violence
  • Teen dating violence is one of the fastest growing areas of violence against women
  • In 2012 alone, 35,000 domestic violence arrests were made in Ohio
The Pepper Plan: An Intense Focus on Reform, Enforcement and Justice for Victims
  • Reforms to Expand Protection of Ohio’s Women from Violence — In his first week in office, Pepper will impanel a Standing Committee on Violence Against Women—comprised of leaders and experts from around the state, including survivors of violence—to examine and recommend reforms needed to prevent violence against women and improve enforcement. Among other changes, Pepper will push to expand Ohio domestic violence laws to include coercion and other non-physical abuse that can be a prelude to violence, will urge that Ohio join most other states to establish that strangulation is a felony, and will ensure that the federal ban on firearms possession for convicted domestic abusers is enforced.
  • Create a Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Unit in the Attorney General’s Office – This unit will provide specialized prosecution, proactive enforcement, technical assistance and training support to agencies throughout the State. The unit will be a resource, particularly for complicated sexual assault prosecutions and best practices implementation, and will step up enforcement of Ohio laws requiring citizens to report felonies and abuse that they witness. And the unit will lead an effort to make sure all of Ohio’s public universities and colleges are doing all they can to protect students from sexual assault.
  • Support Victims With More Resources, Quicker Action, and Immediate Answers – Pepper will shore up the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund, which has seen claims filed by crime victims go up, but outlays to victims falling by millions. Pepper will also clear the growing backlog of untested rape kits in the Attorney General’s Office. He will partner with the legislature and the state’s regional crime labs to set a clear goal—to end the backlog in the first 150 days he is in office. And he will greatly improve victims’ access to both services and critical information.

Taking on Violence Against Women: Full Text

Ohio has recently seen incident after incident of high profile, horrible violence against women.  From Steubenville, to Cleveland, to domestic violence and sexual assault that occurs every day, Ohio has seen alarming incidents of violence against women. Beneath the headlines, the numbers are stark:

  • 743,000 women in Ohio are rape survivors
  • An estimated one in six Ohio women report having experienced rape or attempted rape
  • One in four Ohio women experience intimate partner violence
  • Teen dating violence is one of the fastest growing areas of violence against women
  • In 2012 alone, 35,000 domestic violence arrests were made in Ohio

Ohio can and must do better in addressing this violence. As Attorney General, David Pepper will work proactively to tackle it through a greater focus on prevention, enforcement, legal and policy reform, and an intense focus on helping victims.

The Pepper Plan: An Intense Focus on Reform, Enforcement and Justice for Victims

Because there are so many issues to address, Pepper will make two structural/management changes to the Attorney General’s Office to ensure it is tackling this violence systemically and holding abusers accountable every day: Step 1: Reforms to Expand Protection of Ohio’s Women from Violence — In his first week in office, Pepper will impanel a Standing Committee on Violence Against Women—comprised of leaders and experts from around the state, including survivors of violence—to examine and recommend reforms needed to prevent violence against women, improve enforcement, and ensure that agencies and government at all levels are far more attuned to crimes and violence against women than they are today. This Committee will consider and propose a series of statutory changes, policy reforms and best practices to tackle this violence, including:

  1. Expanded domestic violence laws: Expand domestic violence laws to clarify that non-physical abuse and acts of coercion can also comprise threatening behavior that courts should consider in issuing protective orders—Missouri law was recently amended to make this change.  This expansion would ensure that those who face these coercive, non-physical forms of abuse have a chance to have their pleas for protection listened to before physical violence, or worse, takes place.
  2. Amend Ohio law so that state peace officers have authority to enforce firearms ban for convicted domestic abusers: Amend Ohio law so that state law mirrors federal law restricting firearms possession for those convicted of domestic violence.  This change would allow Ohio police officers and sheriff’s deputies to act when they discover that convicted domestic abusers illegally possess firearms.  Currently, Ohio peace officers must await a federal official, such as an ATF agent, to enforce these law violations. This hole in the law only endangers women, and potentially law enforcement as well.
  3. Make explicit that strangulation is a felony in Ohio.  Choking and strangulation are among the most common and dangerous forms of physical violence, and can cause brain damage, miscarriage and death. A 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine also found that 43 percent of women murdered in domestic assaults and 45 percent of attempted murder victims had been strangled in the previous year by their male partners.  As of 2010, 29 states explicitly classified strangulation as a felony. Ohio should do the same.
  4. Amend Ohio law to establish that constructive or actual notice of temporary protection orders is sufficient for offenders to be bound by the order, and subject to arrest for violation of the order. The Ohio Supreme Court’s recent ruling that actual legal service must have occurred creates one more obstacle keeping abused women from the protection they need.  Often abusers are aware of these orders through conversation or text, but now that notice is insufficient under current law.  This gives abusers an easy opportunity to escape being bound by an order.
  5. Modern technology: the Committee will review existing statutes to ensure that Ohio law takes into account modern-day, high-tech forms of abuse, such as cyber-stalking, so-called “revenge porn,” and other forms of digital and online abuse of women.
  6. Specialized Dockets/Courts: the Committee will examine specialized courts/dockets for violence against women—such as those in Akron and Mansfield—to determine the best ways to expand this best practice as broadly as possible.
  7. Evidence-based prevention: currently, the Attorney General has a single program called “Cut It Out” to encourage hair salons to help recognize and prevent domestic violence.  This may be a good start, but prevention and awareness must go much further.  This committee will encourage implementation of best practices for abuse prevention in the workplace and more broadly so that Ohioans are skilled in identifying both abusers and victims and helping end violence.
  8. Data and analysis: on an annual basis, the Committee will gather and analyze data regarding incidents of violence against women, create a transparent dashboard of that data, and use the dashboard to track trends, progress, setbacks, etc.

Step 2: Create a Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Unit in the Attorney General’s Office — this unit will provide specialized prosecution, proactive enforcement, technical assistance and training support to agencies throughout the State:

  1. Special prosecutions: The unit will provide special prosecution support for sexual assault and other gender violence cases throughout the state, assisting local prosecutors in complex evidentiary cases. Training and ongoing support will be available so that prosecutors will be supported in prosecuting these crimes.
  2. “Report it!”: The unit will push for aggressive enforcement and awareness of existing Ohio law requiring people to report felonies they witness—and specifically sexual assaults and other violence against women. After Steubenville, the Attorney General himself said the three witnesses who watched the crime had no duty to do anything, and his office wrote letters letting them off scot free.  He was wrong.  Ohio law requires Ohioans to report felonies. More fundamentally, crimes against women, whether they be rape, domestic violence or other forms of violence or abuse—are rooted in a culture of “looking the other way.”  As opposed to looking the other way, Pepper will make certain that this duty to report is clear to all, including young people, and those with a special legal responsibility to report abuse and violence.
  3. Technical Assistance/AG Recognition for Best Practices: The unit will create and disseminate a template of best practices and policies to communities, courts and agencies who wish to enhance their response to gender based violence, and will audit and publicly recognize and highlight those communities that adopt those practices.
  4. The Safe Campus Project: Nationally, one in five women has been sexually assaulted in college, and less than 12% of these assaults are reported. It is a national crisis. The unit will work with Ohio’s public universities to ensure they are adopting best practices to make campuses safe for women.  Pepper will audit each Ohio university’s policies and practices when it comes to sexual assaults, dating and stranger abuse, implement best practices, and make sure federal and state laws are being adhered to on every campus in Ohio.’
  5. Hotline on Response: The unit will operate a hotline where victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse can report systemic problems in the way local government, agencies and schools respond to violence against women in that jurisdiction.
  6. Training: The office will enhance training that ensures agencies across the state are on the cutting edge when it comes to detecting, responding to and protecting Ohio’s women from sexual assault and domestic violence.

Step 3: Support Victims With More Resources, Quicker Action, and Immediate Answers

  1. Shore Up the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund: The Victim’s Compensation Fund helps crime victims in Ohio cover related medical bills, lost wages, property damage, counseling and other expenses.  Since 2011, claims filed by crime victims are up, but outlays to victims have actually dropped by millions. The average award to victims has dropped by 33%, and the total annual awards have dropped by nearly 20% since 2011, and are down 40% from 2006—from $14.5 to below $9M in 2013. The fund balance is about 25% of what it was 10 years ago. Pepper believes victims deserve better.  He will shore up support for the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund, finding new sources of funding to support victims and their families.
  2. Clear the Backlog of Untested Rape Kits in First 150 Days: For years in Ohio, rape kits have sat on shelves of agencies throughout the state, collecting dust, while perpetrators remain at large and thousands of sexual assault survivors and their families are agonized by this lack of justice. The Cleveland Plain Dealer highlighted this unacceptable crisis, and to his credit, Mike DeWine began testing backlogged kits—but rather than working with agencies across the state to process the kits rapidly through a shared approach, he has created a costly bottleneck at the AG’s office, needlessly slowing the process.  From the outset of the program, it’s clear the current operation can not keep up with the demand, with the backlog of rape kits there growing almost every month. It now stands at 3,000 and growing. Pepper will solve the effort by sharing the testing responsibility—and necessary resources to test all kits—with agencies across the state that are equipped to do this critical work.  He will work with the legislature and the state’s regional crime labs to set a clear goal—to end the backlog in the first 150 days he is in office. Pepper will also ensure that going forward, rape kits are maintained as evidence until the statute of limitations has run on sex assault crimes.Rape Kit Backlog
  3. Web Portal to Help Victims: Currently, there is little information on the Attorney General’s website helping or guiding victims of domestic violence or sexual assault to safety—and what information there is very difficult to navigate.  This is in stark contrast to many attorneys general nationally. In 2014, particularly with young people, providing no online answers or guidance is simply unacceptable. As Attorney General, Pepper will develop an easy-to-use online web portal to assist victims of violence in every part of Ohio, getting them the help and resources they need, immediately.
  4. Statewide Access to Victim Services: Along the same lines, dozens of counties do not provide many basic support services for survivors of rape and sexual assault, and a handful provide almost no services whatsoever. While improvements are being made, many counties still lack those services. The Attorney General office’s stated goal is that all 88 counties will have core services by 2018.  Five years is far too slow. Survivors in those counties shouldn’t be left without help for nearly that long.  Pepper will set a goal to have core services available to victims in all 88 counties by the end of his first year in office.
  5. Fight the Legislative “Gag Order” For Sexual Assault Survivors: Pepper will fight to end the “gag order” imposed by the legislature that prevents rape crisis centers from discussing all medical options with assault survivors. Politicians have no business interfering with the work of highly trained doctors and counselors, particularly at moments when a survivor is the recent victim of an attack.
  6. More Training and Support for Victims and Victims Services: Pepper will provide support through training and enhanced allocation of resources so victims of domestic violence will have greater access to legal assistance in pursuing civil protection orders and related legal needs such as custody disputes. Pepper will also support laws that require employers to accommodate the needs of domestic violence victims.