A new Indiana law’s goal is to make it easier for those affected by domestic violence to leave abusive relationships.
The act, which state Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, helped push through the General Assembly earlier this year, is a combination of two proposals. Part of Senate Enrolled Act 323 allows wireless providers to transfer phone plans over to domestic violence victims without the consent of an account holder if a judge allows it. That part of the proposal was actually pushed for by representatives from AT& T and Verizon, McNamara said. Previously, wireless carries could not make such a transfer under Indiana law. The other part of the bill allows judges to include pets in protective orders for domestic violence. That part of the new law, which will take affect next month, was originally proposed separably by State Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, but it did not receive a committee hearing in the House chamber. So that language was inserted into Senate Bill 323, McNamara said.
“Vaneta did most of the leg work talking to people in the Evansville area on that particular issue,” she said.
That part of the bill, McNamra said, is aimed at preventing abusers from being able to use pets as leverage to get partners to stay in harmful relationships.
“In a lot of cases, (what) has been told to me, is that the abuser will use the pet as leverage as much as a child — to the point that they will threaten to harm the pet or do whatever it takes if that person would leave them,” she said.
McNamara said supporters of the new law hope that both parts encourage domestic violence survivors to make a “clean break” from their abusers. Having their own phone plans also allows survivors to reach out to friends and family in their time of need.
Sidney Hardgrave, the executive director of Holly’s House, applauded the new law because legislators addressed two barriers that prevent victims from leaving harmful relationships. She pointed out that in abusive relationships, one person is often trying to control every facet of the other person’s life, including who they talk to, their schedule and their finances.
“When someone tries to regain independence from that relationship, anything that the abuser can continue to control becomes a tool to continue to manipulate the victim,” Hardgrave said. “Access to a phone can also be a safety matter: Being able to reach 911 or being able to reach friends or other support network people. But the (mindset of), ‘I control the phone, you can’t have this data, you can’t access your contacts, you can’t do whatever.’ Those are all things that an abuser can continue to manipulate and then control the victim through that.”
Hardgrave said being able to take pets with them as part of a protective orders will certainly be “empowering” to victims.
Holly’s House has also been participants in the annual Purple Purse Challenge, which is sponsored by the Allstate Foundation. That annual campaign aims to put a spotlight on the barrier that money often plays in abusive relationships. The money collected goes to the Client Assistance Fund, which is accessible to the YWCA, the Lampion Center and the Albion Fellows Bacon Center, as well as Holly’s House.
All four Evansville organizations can assist those looking to get out of an abusive relationship.
During the 2017 session, McNamra also proposed a bill that would have taken guns away from those arrested for domestic violence cases involving a gun or the threat of the use of a firearm, but that did not advance through the the Statehouse.
Earlier this month, she told the Courier & Press that the issue “was definitely something to (still) look at” but acknowledged that such getting such a proposal into law would require a balance. She also pledged to continue to have discussions with law enforcement, domestic violence groups, the National Rife Association on the issue. Other states, she said, have passed similar laws.