State domestic abuse law to help more victims report crimes

Published 2:39 pm Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mississippians victimized by domestic abuse — mostly women abused by an intimate partner — have been given stronger encouragement to contact law enforcement.

A new law would impose fines of up to $1,000 and jail time of up to six months for people who prevent the victim from contacting officials.

The penalties also could be imposed on third parties who prevent the contact but did not commit the abuse.

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Mississippi’s new law was sponsored by Attorney General Jim Hood, authored by Sen. David Blount, D-Clinton, and sailed to passage with only one opposing vote, in the House.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an advocacy group dealing with federal legislation, reports on its website that “only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.”

Hood and many others sought the law to legally intimidate abusers who many times successfully prevent the reporting of what they have done.

Domestic violence is commonly understood to include willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. …

The new Mississippi law is brief and unambiguous:

“Any person who verbally or physically obstructs, prevents, or hinders another person from seeking or receiving emergency medical assistance, emergency assistance from a third party, or emergency assistance from law enforcement or other emergency personnel, with the intent to cause or allow physical harm or injury to that person is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not to exceed One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) or imprisonment not to exceed six (6) months, or both.”

If the new penalty for preventing reports of abuse doesn’t work, we hope the Legislature increases the fine and the jail time to reinforce the state’s commitment to protecting victims.