House Passes Domestic Violence Bill

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Members of the House of Representatives passed the 5-year-old Domestic Violence Bill

At long last, after five years of dangling of the Domestic Violence Act of 2014 and later reintroduced as the Domestic Violence Act of 2019, the male-dominant House of Representatives has approved the Domestic Violence Act. The final bill being forwarded to the Senate includes “staking” in the definition of “emotional, verbal and psychological abuse”.

Forty one (41) members of the House of Representatives voted for the passage of the Domestic Violence Act on Thursday, July 4, 2019, the 44th day sitting, while none voted against but Rep. Isaac Roland abstained.

The lone abstainer, Rep. Roland, who also filed in a motion of reconsideration against the consent of the Domestic Violence Act, subsequently withdrew his motion and bowed to the approval.

Domestic Violence Act of 2019 was approved following a motion from Rep. Edwin M. Snowe, Jr., after a lengthy arguments among members of the House of Representatives about the ‘definition of the forms of abuse’ to avoid ambiguity in the interpretation of the law. The approval followed a stalling of the passage of the bill on Tuesday, July 2 to enable lawmakers to scrutinize the bill.

Also, the absence of members of the Diplomatic Corps in the Chambers was obvious, unlike on Tuesday, July 2, when they sat opposite members of the House of Representatives and adjacent Speaker Bhofal Chambers, anticipating to hear the bill debated. There were also no Liberian female protestors.

Forms of Abuses

Domestic Violence Act, which aims to improve the quality of life for those being abused and to prevent further abuse, names the forms of domestic violence include, but not limited to: physical, emotional, verbal, psychological and economic abuses.

Harassment

The bill argued that repeatedly watching, or loitering outside or near the building where a person resides, works, carries on business or studies, against the will of that person, is considered harassment.

Also, repeatedly making telephone calls to or inducing another person to make telephone calls to a person, whether or not conversation ensues, as well as repeatedly using the internet or other electronic means to make unwanted or malicious communication to a person, whether or not conversation ensures.

Definition and Purpose of the Bill

According to Bill, Domestic Violence means, in general, any act of violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, men or children, including threes of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation or liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life, between parties in an existing or former domestic relationship.

Consequently, the purpose of the bill recognizes domestic violence as a serious crime against the individual and society, which takes on many forms including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation. The bill also aims to facilitate accessibility of remedies in order to provide immediate and effective assistance and protection for victims/survivors.

The bill further recognizes that the legal system has ineffectively dealt with family violence in the past, allowing abusers to escape effective prosecution or financial liability and has not adequately acknowledged the criminal nature of domestic violence and that, although many laws have changed, in practice, there is widespread failure to appropriately protect and assist victims.

The bill further supports the efforts of victims/survivors of domestic violence to avoid further abuse by promptly entering and diligently enforcing court orders that prohibit abuse and, when necessary, reduce the abuser’s access to the victim and address any related issues of child custody and economic support, so that the victims are not trapped in abusive situations by fear of retaliation, loss of a child, financial dependence or loss of home as well as clarify the responsibilities and support the efforts of law enforcement officers to provide immediate effective assistance and protection of victims of domestic violence.

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Bhofal Chambers, and Rep. Rosana Schaack, the chairperson of the Women Legislative Caucus and proponent of the reintroduced bill, on behalf of women, thanked Rep. J. Fonati Koffa, who was the Joint Chairman of the House’s Joint Committee on Judiciary, Gender and Good Governance.

“We would like to thank my colleagues for their support and the passage of the bill, and this means that the ending of violence in homes has begun,” a delighted Rep. Koffa told journalists.

“When the Domestic Violence Act is passed by both Houses and approved by the President and then printed into handbill, it will improve the quality of life for those being abused and prevent further abuse.”

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