California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law some new protections for domestic violence victims that will take effect as of January 1, 2014. The first one helps renters to quickly get out of their lease if they are concerned about an offender finding them, harassing or stalking them. In the past, a victim might move away to an obscure place to get away from the offender and “hide” because they were afraid of any repercussions after the he got out of jail. However, in some cases the offender would track the victim down and find her anyway. If the victim had signed a lease, they were stuck to either pay it off or wait it out, hoping for the best and living in fear.
Last summer, the ex-wife of a client of ours called us because she was helping her ex-spouse to find a court ordered 52-week domestic violence class after he had spent time in jail for physically assaulting her. She had moved away but was in contact with him via email and phone. She thought she had found an obscure place to live so that he’d never be able to find her, but was trying to stay on the best possible terms with him. One day her neighbor told her that while she was at work, a man had been lurking around the front of her porch area that faced out on the street and looking at her front door. When I spoke with her she was worried about her safety and stressed because she had signed a lease and couldn’t move for another 5 months. Thankfully now, with this new law, all she would have to do is show the landlord some sort of proof that she’s been abused and the landlord would have to let her get out of the lease to move away for her own well being without any monetary repercussions.
Another law that goes into effect, SB 400, extends the current California Labor Code section 230. Currently, the law says that employers with 25 or more employees can’t threaten to discharge, discriminate against or retaliate against employees that are domestic violence or sexual assault victims. They must be allowed to take time off from work to see doctors, social services or go to court hearings related to the incident. The new law extends this same protection to victims of stalking as well (like the woman noted above).
The definition of stalking covers behavior that includes purposely following, harassing or making threats with the intent of making the victim fearful for his/her safety or that of her immediate family. SB 400 suggests that employers do their best to provide a safe work environment by transferring or changing the employees work schedule, changing the employees phone number and/or location within the building, installing new locks if applicable, and helping the person to find victim assistance outside of the company. Basically, the company must get involved to do their best to make the workplace a safe environment for that employee.
Both of these new laws are part of the state’s fight to combat domestic abuse. Once a domestic abuse situation is reported to the authorities, they are required to complete a report and make an arrest if there is visible injury. If convicted, a DV offender in California can expect some or all of the following punishments: jail time, fines, mandatory batterers intervention counseling, alcohol education classes, restraining orders and termination or suspension of child custody or visitation. For help in this arena, online domestic violence classes, group in-person classes and one/one therapy are available to the offender to stop the behavior before it comes to all this, or for court orders.