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Opinion SB 2703 death endangers domestic abuse victims

SB 2703 death endangers domestic abuse victims

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On Feb. 28 pastor and Chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee Andy Gipson declared Senate Bill 2703 dead. The bill would have declared domestic violence as means for divorce in Mississippi.

According to Mississippi state law, there are 12 grounds for divorce, including desertion, natural insanity, adultery, habitual abuse of drugs and alcohol, incest and yes, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.

Domestic violence would have been added to the seventh item in article one – where habitual cruel and inhuman treatment is listed, adding “including spousal domestic abuse” to the end of the phrase.

Gipson denied the addition due to inhumane treatment already being grounds for divorce, implying that the specific language was not necessary. He also said, “We need to have policies that strengthen marriage. If a person is abusive, they need to have a change in behavior and change of heart.”

I agree with Gipson when he insinuates that adding the words domestic violence is redundant. Gipson is also correct when he says that abusers need to change their behavior. After all, about 10 million men and women are estimated to be victims of physical abuse, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

However, those in abusive marriages should not be forced to stay with their partner in hopes of fixing them.

Currently, the Mississippi court system makes getting divorced on the grounds of domestic violence extremely challenging. Many are discouraged to take their domestic violence cases to court due to having to prove that the violence occurred over a period of time. Because most incidents of domestic violence occur privately in the home, there are often no witnesses. The type and amount of proof also varies from judge to judge.

According to Stacey Sarver, legal director of Women’s Law, Mississippi’s law in regards to domestic violence is unique, telling the Huffington Post that most states do not require proof of the frequency of the violence.

Sarver said, “It seems in Mississippi, one incident is not enough.”

Unfortunately, Sarver›s interview with the Huffington Post was conducted in April of 2016. The article was made after the Mississippi Senate›s failed attempt to rectify the list of reasons for divorce.

Gipson provided insight to the lack of change in a lengthy Facebook post on March 1. Stating that the problem is not with the law, Gipson cited multiple court cases where the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in favor of the victims.

Then, Gipson hypocritically put the blame on Mississippi judges when he said in the comment section, “To the extent there is a problem, I think it is a lack of uniformity in application of the law by the different judges who are elected from district to district. You could change the law to whatever, but unless judges enforce it uniformly, it won›t make a difference. For example, if a judge demands a certain level or type of proof, etc. It’s worth studying but I’m not sure any change in the law would help this issue.”

Gipson’s complacent attitude makes me wonder why he is in office. If he recognizes that there is a problem with the application of a law, why not at least attempt at making a law that forces for proof standards to be uniform? Maybe if the Senate would have added details about what is needed to prove domestic violence Gipson would have approved the bill, but the fact that Gipson sounded content with the current law is concerning.

The first priority of any public servant should be to ensure that its constituents are safe. While I do understand that charging someone with domestic violence is a serious allegation, representatives like Gipson should be more considerate of the victims. Even if the proof is found to be inadequate, perhaps the alleged victim should be allowed to divorce anyway. The decision to marry and remain married should be mutual, and if one person is forced to remain in a marriage, then the state is guilty of committing cruel and inhumane treatment.


 

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