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Memorandum of Support

Empire Justice Memo of Support: Protect Victims of Domestic Violence from Economic Abuse

A.7400 (Weinstein)/S.5821 (Robach)

This bill seeks to provide victims of intimate partner violence with relief from economic abuse.  

Despite many domestic violence victims’ needs for immediate safety and freedom from physical violence, long-term safety and security often cannot be achieved without similar relief from economic and financial abuse.          

Perpetrators of intimate partner violence commonly engage in a variety of economic abuse tactics specifically intended to intimidate, control, isolate and foster dependence in their victims.  Such tactics significantly increase the victim’s risk of housing insecurity or homelessness, poor employment or education history, food insecurity and bad credit.  The long-standing impact of economic abuse can impair both the victim and the victim’s children, as well as increase their dependence upon government funded benefits such as unemployment insurance, public assistance, and public and subsidized housing.
Recognizing these concerns, New York has already undertaken several important legislative measures designed to provide victims with some economic supports including, but not limited to, implementation of the Family Violence Option for public assistance applicants and recipients, relief from employment related discrimination, access to unemployment insurance benefits, early lease termination protections and free credit report security freezes.                

While these economic justice measures have indeed responded to victims’ needs incidental to the abuse, they have failed to hold batterers directly accountable for the very abuse that created or exacerbated victims’ need for economic safety nets in the first place.    

Enumerated family offenses currently address many of the types of sexual abuse and stalking related offenses, harassment, recklessness, disorderly conduct and physical abuse crimes inflicted by batterers.  However, this same framework has yet to adequately respond to harmful economic abuse and control.  The more recent addition of criminal mischief provided some limited relief by addressing destruction and disabling of property.  Additionally, courts may entertain economically abusive acts as part of harassment’s general course of conduct.  However, such considerations are subject to judicial discretion and not routinely considered.     

By enhancing the list of enumerated family offenses with the crimes of identity theft, larceny and coercion, the bill specifically recognizes several types of economic abuse and provides such victims with a host of relief including:  concurrent jurisdiction for civil and criminal protection, subjection to mandatory arrest and primary aggressor determinations, and access to other legal relief that references the definition of “victim of domestic violence” contained in either the Criminal Procedure Law §530.11 or the Family Court Act §812.  This bill also provides courts with the explicit ability to order the return of critical “identification documents” which the victim may need access to or the abuser may be wrongfully retaining, such as a birth certificate, passport, benefits card and immigration documents.          

Given that the Family Court has long possessed the ability to order up to $10,000 in restitution in family offense proceedings, this bill will enhance the court’s jurisdiction to provide economic redress to victims of financial abuse.  Further, by highlighting these crimes as family offenses in the criminal context, prosecutors will be reminded to request orders of protection where the perpetrators are members of the victim’s family or household.  

It can take years to undo or recover from the intentional infliction of economic harm or ruined credit caused by domestic abuse.  Long after injuries have healed, theft, debt and ruined credit may haunt these families by impacting the victim’s ability to get a mortgage, finance a vehicle, secure an apartment or obtain employment where credit checks are required.   

Empire Justice Center applauds this bill and strongly advocates for its quick passage in both houses.    

This memo was prepared by:

Amy Schwartz-Wallace

Empire Justice Center
Telesca Center for Justice
One West Main Street, Suite 200
Rochester, NY  14614 

(585) 454-4060
(585) 454-2518