Bills to help domestic violence victims

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (MGN)
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (MGN)(WJHG)
Published: Oct. 23, 2019 at 6:23 PM EDT
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Thirty-three percent of women in the U.S. experience some type of violence from their partner. In Michigan, that number is higher, coming in at 40 percent.

Now, a group of state lawmakers are trying to protect those victims.

The Progressive Women's Caucus introduced a package of bills that support domestic violence survivors. That includes allowing them to take time off work because of their situation.

"They don't necessarily tell their employers, 'hey, I'm out because of a domestic violence situation,'" said Brigitte Gurden, executive director of End Violent Encounters (EVE).

One bill updates the Paid Medical Leave Act to now include stalking as a reason for leave. Another ensures victims can get unemployment benefits.

"If they do end up losing their job because they took too many days off in a row because they just didn't feel safe going to work, because that abuser knows where they work, it gives them the protection that they can get unemployment and that they're not going to be out financially," Gurden said.

"There is a lot of stigma associated with coming forward. People are embarrassed or ashamed or scared and that's real. We need to reach people where they are and I think this package will help with that," said Representative Kara Hope, of Holt.

One of the bills would also ban landlords from discriminating against victims because of their past.

"Once they are in our shelter, it's hard for us to get them into stable, permanent housing because there's domestic violence conviction, there's poor references from former landlords, they may owe money on utility bills," Gurden said.

Some of these bills have been introduced previously, but partisan politics prevented them from passing. While domestic violence largely affects women, it's important to note that this is not just a women's issue.

"I think sometimes maybe men are even more reluctant to speak out than women are because of a stigma associated and gender expectations that are a part of our culture," Hope said.

Other bills in the package also prevent landlords from discrimination against victims and protecting them from eviction.

Representative Hope is advocating for the violence against women act to be renewed at the federal level, which provides protection and services for victims.

The bills include:

• Updating the Paid Medical Leave Act of 2019 to include stalking, in addition to domestic violence and sexual assault, as a protected classification for the use of paid sick leave.

• Ensuring an individual is not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits for conduct stemming from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

• Preventing landlords and realtors from discriminating against individuals based on domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

• Requiring eviction protection for survivors of domestic violence.

• Extending privacy rights to adult victims, not just minors.

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