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Local advocates applaud Cuomo's proposals to combat domestic violence 

Advocates for survivors of domestic violence say they're pleased to see Gov. Andrew Cuomo prioritizing their concerns in a year when New York state faces a $15 billion budget deficit and a greater demand for basic services.

Cuomo laid out several proposals regarding domestic and gender-based violence during his annual State of the State address, which he delivered by video on Monday. Among the proposals he'll submit to the Legislature is one that would make it more difficult for people who are charged with a serious domestic violence-related misdemeanor to buy guns.

There is a provision in the current state law to disqualify some abusers from buying firearms, but Cuomo said the process is cumbersome.

click to enlarge Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2021 State of the State address. - PHOTO PROVIDED BY GOV. ANDREW CUOMO'S OFFICE
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2021 State of the State address.
The governor wants to close the loophole by creating a domestic violence misdemeanor label for certain abuse-related crimes.

"Sometimes these cases don't rise to a felony, so these pretty significant misdemeanors ... not having these offenders have access to guns is huge because if there are weapons involved, the lethality goes way up," said Mary Whittier, interim CEO of RESOLVE of Greater Rochester, a domestic abuse treatment center.

Another of Cuomo's proposals would allow courts to require abusers to pay for damages to homes, moving expenses, and other costs related to domestic violence.

Whittier said finances are one of the biggest barriers for survivors trying to escape an abusive relationship.

"The survivor is expected to pay that on top of other bills when they may not even be working," she explained, "because maybe they were not allowed to work because of such controlling behavior."

Cuomo announced last week that the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence will now be called the Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Alison Francis-Lord, director of advocacy services at Willow Domestic Violence Center, said the new name acknowledges the broad scope of survivors' experiences.

"That expansion is more inclusive in recognizing the experiences of the LGBTQ+ population, in that relationships aren't always a cisgender, heterosexual man and woman," she said. "All types of people experience violence."

Cuomo said the stark rise in domestic violence and gender-based violence is one of the most horrific results of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, Willow had a 16 percent increase in calls to its crisis and support hotline and RESOLVE saw a 40 percent surge in demand for its services.

Whittier said some of the requests for counseling services came from professionals such as teachers, nurse practitioners, and other health care workers.

"What they're struggling with is when work used to be a reprieve — because home was not — now, 'I'm working on a COVID floor.' Now, 'I'm working so many hours in a nursing home," Whittier said. "So, there's no safe place anyways because you're dealing with the violence at home with your offender and then you're dealing with this whole pandemic."

Some clients, Whittier added, have continued requesting counseling sessions even after they completed RESOLVE's program.

She said it has been challenging for people to transfer their care to a community-based therapist because their services are in such great demand during the pandemic.

Beth Adams is a reporter at WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.

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