Hickenlooper to Sign Victims’ Law Today
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
Today, Governor John Hickenlooper will sign Colorado House Bill 17-1322 into law at the State Capitol, inking new regulations that will have a significant impact on domestic violence cases in Leadville. With the stroke of his pen, victims will now have more control over how they choose to report injuries sustained in altercations. It’s a measure that The Advocates of Lake County strongly supported.
“We were involved with the passage of this bill,” stated Executive Director of the Advocates Jenny Abbott. “We wrote letters, made calls and even had a staff member testify!”
The new law will expand options for victims needing medical care for injuries resulting from domestic violence. Under House Bill 17-1322, lawmakers sought to give victims more autonomy by allowing them to decide whether or not to report injuries to law enforcement after seeking medical care.
In the past, the law required in detail that any licensed physician, physician assistant, or anesthesiologist assistant (licensee) who attends or treats any of certain injuries, including injuries resulting from domestic violence, report the injury at once to the police, regardless of their patient’s wishes. According to the new law’s proponents, this dated practice has now been well researched and has been found to actually jeopardize a victim’s safety.
But not everyone shares that opinion.
“I think this bill is going to be a setback for combating domestic violence,” stated Leadville Police Department (LPD) Chief Robert Glenny in an interview with Leadville Today.
Under the former reporting system, Chief Glenny believes that requiring healthcare personnel to report injuries was often the “nudge” victims needed to speak to law enforcement, although they were never required to speak to police.
“Now that healthcare providers are not mandatory reporters, I think it’s going to be a setback,” explained Glenny. “But I hope I’m wrong.”
Leadville Today reached out to all law enforcement related departments and offices asking: how HB 17-1322 might affect their engagement with domestic violence victims, and the status of their working relationship with The Advocates of Lake County, the nonprofit that most residents know as assisting local victims and their families.
Police Chief Glenny explained that the LPD works with a number of agencies and individuals in domestic violence cases, including the Advocates, “I think in the last year, we’ve redeveloped a good working relationship with the Advocates of Lake County.”
Leadville Today also posed the same questions to Lake County Sheriff Rodney Fenske. Here is his formal reply concerning HB 17-1322:
The bill was written for medical personnel and really doesn’t affect law enforcement. By Colorado statues if we have probable cause that the crime of domestic violence has been committed then by statue we are required to make an arrest.
Many times when dealing with a victim of domestic violence they don’t want to talk to law enforcement. This happens for many reasons , the victim is truly afraid if they talk to law enforcement the defendant will beat them more, or make their life difficult, telling them they will lose their children or no man will have anything to do with them they need only look in the mirror. The number one reason a victim of domestic violence will tell me is this is their fault and not their spouse. They didn’t get dinner on the table in time or they were talking with another male friend. As to the defendant it’s a control issue. They know they are wrong for what they are doing, they also know they can’t lose control of the victim.
We in law enforcement do not make arrest or file criminal cases based solely on a victim or witness statement or the lack of, we look for other evidenced of the crime. If we file a case or make an arrest it is the decision of the district attorney’s office to prosecute or not based on the victims statement or lack their of. As for advocates there are two types, law enforcement and community based. A law enforcement advocate can tell law enforcement of any statement a victim or witness makes a community based advocate cannot. – Sheriff Rod
State Senator Kerry Donovan, who represents Lake County in the 5th Congressional District was a primary supporter of the measure during the 2017 Legislative Session.
“Based on the discussions with survivors and advocates we have had, the current policy on the books actually puts survivors of domestic violence in danger. Through this bill, these survivors can have the time to create their plan for safety, whether it is finding housing or protecting children, while still seeking medical care for their injuries. This way, the decision is in their hands, and they still have access to help.”
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown didn’t think the new law would change too much when it comes to prosecution of domestic violence cases in Lake County which is his jurisdiction.
“This will have the affect of a slight decrease in the number of prosecutions for domestic violence assaults,” Brown stated in an email statement to Leadville Today.
He expressed that the impact of this new law is that some victims whose cases were prosecuted against their wishes, will now be able to control the process and eliminate investigations and prosecutions, by indicating during medical treatment that they don’t want to report their abuser to police.
“While the victim is empowered, and may be seeking needed medical treatment since there is a no mandatory reporting in less serious cases, it also might diminish offender apprehension and treatment,” Brown continued.
And while its apparent that not everyone involved in assisting and reporting domestic violence situations in Lake County sees the new law from the same perspective, it was clear that there was one common thread.
“Domestic violence is not to be taken lightly,” stated Sheriff Fenske. And the numbers back up that concern.
In Lake County, the new law will make a difference to the victims, 224 of them in 2016, according to The Advocates. In fact, for many victims, 415 of whom called the Advocate’s hotline number last year, it could very well be the difference between deciding to receive medical attention or not. And come August 9, 2017 when the bill will officially become enacted, victims will have new options.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence you may contact The Advocates of Lake County through their hotline number at 719-486-3530. This private, non-profit organization is based in Leadville and provides confidential services to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault as well as operates a safehouse shelter. For more information call 719-486-3530 or connect with them on The Advocates of Lake County Facebook Page.