SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- When it comes to criminal offenses against another person in New York State, an offender can be charged for various types of assault, stalking, hazing, menacing, reckless endangerment and more, but an offender can never be charged with a crime called "domestic assault."
“Our criminal justice system has not yet really responded to the true nature of domestic violence,” said Bryn Lovejoy-Grinnell, a family law attorney.
In New York, if police respond to a domestic call of one person punching another family member, it is considered a family offense and a harassment violation. Police can only make the arrest if the victim chooses to press charges. If the victim chooses to do so, the offender will pay a fine and receive no jail time.
Vera House Program Coordinator Jennifer Shaw agrees that that's an incredibly difficult ask of a survivor who is already buried in a web of control, manipulation, and a threat of violence.
"So a survivor has to take, if that’s truly what they want is to have that partner arrested in that moment, that’s a significant act of courage because their partner is hearing very clearly, I’m the one arresting you, I want you arrested, I want this to stop," said Shaw.
If the abuser continues to commit the crime, the cycle continues. The penal law never takes into consideration the previous offenses.
“The crime is not related to the relationship between people so an assault between strangers is treated the same as an assault between family members, between colleagues, it’s all the same,” said Lovejoy-Grinnell.
Victims of domestic violence do have other legal options.
“In the custody context and family court system, that is different and in family court, in the family offense world when a petitioner is prosecuting a family offense, a victim can talk about a pattern of behavior,” said Lovejoy-Grinnell.
In Katie Stager’s case, she went to family court to seek her order of protection which is through 2027. She was stabbed more than 30 times by her then-husband, six months after being granted that order of protection.
“For an abuser that is not going to respect that, it’s worth absolutely nothing and police are not going to enforce an order of protection that hasn’t been violated,” said Lovejoy-Grinnell.
Both Lovejoy-Grinnell and O’Brien were asked if they feel like New York State law is effective in preventing or intervening.
“I think there are certain cases where the existing law is effective," said Lovejoy-Grinnell.
“Would it be great if some of the laws could change? Yes, but it’s the New York State Penal Law system,” said Shaw.
“Some states have created domestic violence law which recognizes that the same conduct in the context of a family relationship is more dangerous, more troubling, more concerning for a variety of reasons than that conduct between strangers,” said Lovejoy-Grinnell.
The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence provides detailed information for survivors determining to utilize police or the courts.
According to the office, the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline can be contacted at 1-800-942-9606 and has multi-language accessibility. Deaf or Hard of Hearing can dial 711.