Nader Hashim: Closing a loophole on domestic assault

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I sat in my seat in the House of Representatives with three pages of my speech spread out in front of me. I was preparing to report bill H.7, an act relating to second-degree aggravated domestic assault. I was asked in December to help with this bill by Rep. Sibilia, I-Londonderry. The bill we worked on would hold serial abusers more accountable for their crimes, while affording more protections for victims as a result. This would be done by allowing police and our judiciary system to take into consideration domestic assault convictions from other states.

Reporting a bill is one of the important steps taken right before the general assembly casts their vote. This is an opportunity to inform the entire assembly about the content and purpose of the bill, and allows legislators to ask questions about it.

My thoughts wandered entirely away from preparing as I stared at the words on the pages in front of me. There was an hour left before the house would be called to order, but in the meantime other representatives walked over to wish me luck and offer insight on how to best deliver the speech. However, in the back of my mind were memories of the countless domestic assault incidents I responded to as a trooper.

Instead of the speech, I thought about the victims I have seen barricaded in rooms to keep themselves safe from their violent spouse.

I thought about the traumatized looks on children's faces after they witnessed violence in their homes.

I thought about the long stays in emergency rooms, and the times I've had to interview victims as they dealt with both the physical and emotional pain caused by their abuse.

I thought about the long hours spent processing suspects in the barracks into the early hours of the morning.

I thought about the fact that the work done on H.7 is an important step in addressing violence in our communities, especially against women.

While domestic violence against men does exist, data from the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that in reported domestic violence cases 76 percent of victims are female, whereas 24 percent of victims are male. Regardless, it is important to recognize that domestic violence is a self-perpetuating cycle. According to the World Health Organization, people who are exposed to domestic violence as children are three to four times more likely to perpetrate domestic violence against intimate partners when they are adults. We have to do our part here in Vermont to make sure our families are safe, and that starts with addressing those who have a history of repeatedly abusing their domestic partners.

Vermont currently takes into consideration prior convictions from other states for crimes such as aggravated sexual assault, violations of abuse prevention orders, and even driving under the influence. This provides prosecutors with more strength and dynamics in addressing individuals who repeatedly commit crimes. However, our judicial system does not consider prior convictions of domestic assault from other states. It is time we close that loophole so we may hold serial abusers more accountable, and let victims feel safer.

Thankfully, H.7 passed with unanimous support in the House of Representatives; the bill is now in the Senate's hands.

Lastly, we must consider the root causes of violence and how it plays into power dynamics in relationships. Violence grows from the roots of poverty, mental health issues, and cultural norms. I hope the current and subsequent generations of Vermonters will always know that compassion, kindness, and respect should remain at the heart of how we live and grow in our communities.

Rep. Nader Hashim (D) is a first-term legislator from Dummerston and is serving as a state representative, with a seat on the House Judiciary Committee. He works for the Vermont State Police, serves as a vice-president for the Windham NAACP, and serves on the Fair & Impartial Policing Committee for the VSP.

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