Tennessean Op-Ed: Tennessee can make strides on domestic violence

Acquire DigitalNews

This year our General Assembly has a chance to take a major step forward in protecting victims of domestic violence from repeated abuse. Protecting victims is just one part of ending domestic violence, but an important part.

Domestic violence is a scourge in our community. On average, every 20 minutes, an act of domestic violence occurs in Davidson County, and Tennessee has one of the 10 worst records for domestic violence in the nation.

In 2013, 26 percent of the homicides in Davidson County were a result of domestic violence and, according to data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, 51 percent of the crimes against persons in Tennessee are a result of domestic violence.

In the United States, more than 15 million children are exposed to domestic violence. After growing to adulthood, boys who are exposed to domestic violence are twice as likely to be violent toward their own partners or children.

The women, men, elderly and children who suffer physical and emotional assault are but the most obvious victims of domestic violence. It is estimated that domestic violence costs our state $1 billion each year in law enforcement expenses, medical expenses and lost productivity.

Law enforcement agencies, the legal community, organizations (such as the YWCA and the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence) and individuals have been focusing resources and attention on the problem. But still, domestic violence persists.

Senate Bill 610 is one more step to address this issue. Currently in Tennessee statute, individuals charged with domestic violence can be held for up to 12 hours to allow the victim adequate time to gather belongings and ensure his or her safety. But a “magistrate or other official duly authorized” can release the accused earlier if they deem the risk to the victim has passed.

Recently, in Davidson County, there was a highly publicized case of an individual arrested for domestic violence being released during the 12-hour “hold.” Subsequently, this individual returned to his dwelling, where he again assaulted his domestic partner, who had returned home to gather her belongings.

Senate Bill 610, and its House companion sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Sumner County, removes the option to release the accused individual within the 12-hour window. This will assure a victim of domestic violence that he or she absolutely has a 12-hour window to seek safety.

As these bills make their way through the legislative process, input from all stakeholders will be sought, welcomed and possibly included in the final version that we will bring to the floors of our respective chambers.

In many ways, the legislative process is the art of compromise. But there is one thing on which we will not compromise. We must stand united and do all within our means to end domestic violence in Tennessee.

Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, represents the 20th district, which includes part of Davidson County.