Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins today introduced legislation that is intended to encourage survivors of domestic violence to seek assistance by ensuring the confidentiality of all personal information they may reveal to staff at domestic violence assistance centers.
“Sometimes, it is critical that victims of abuse share personal, private information with the people who are trying to help them. They may have other problems in their lives that bear on the abuse and it is important for service providers to have a full picture,” says Atkins. “The most important first step in addressing abuse is to get the victim, and any children involved, into a safe and healthy situation. If a victim fears that they themselves might get in trouble by trying to escape an abusive environment, they are not likely to seek help.”
Family Justice Centers are integrated one-stop multi-agency resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. They improve services to victims by preventing them from having to travel to multiple service agencies and tell their traumatic story to several different service providers. Typically, Family Justice Centers include law enforcement.
AB 1623 is based upon a recent study of the Family Justice Center model in California that was called for by 2011 legislation authored by San Diego Senator Christine Kehoe. The study, conducted by Dr. Carrie Petrucci of EMT Associates, Inc., identified best practices and also made recommendations for reducing barriers to service. One of the recommendations was to establish a bright line of separation between law enforcement and other services so that confidential information provided by victims would be protected. In some cases, there may have been some criminal activity in the home or possibly a substance abuse issue. Many survivors are worried about losing their children. Others may be undocumented and fear their families will be torn apart if they seek help. Protecting victims’ privacy will encourage them to come forward and seek help. AB 1623 establishes the confidentiality requirement for all multi-agency domestic violence centers in the state where law enforcement is a partner agency.
"This legislation will set high standards for every Family Justice Center in California and provide confidentiality protections to victims and their children coming forward for help in the midst of life threatening domestic violence,” says Casey Gwinn, co-founder of the first Family Justice Center in the country. “Many victims want to come one place for all their services so they don’t have to go from agency to agency, telling their story over and over again. Too often when victims have to go many places, they give up and go back to their abusers."
“The San Diego Family Justice Center is a true partnership that provides services to combat domestic violence and has proven to be a model of success,” says San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. “I am proud to support this new bill which defines the family justice centers and ensures the life-saving collaborative work between all involved will continue.”
AB 1623 is expected to be scheduled for a legislative hearing in an Assembly policy committee some time next month.