A bill that expands domestic violence help services to include text messaging, chat services, and other ways to communicate digitally was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday.
Assembly Bill 689, authored by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), will provide funds and technical assistance to domestic violence centers across the state for 24-hour phone hotline crisis service, as well as text messaging, computer-based chat, and other technology on a 24-hour or intermittent basis. California code would also be changed to require domestic violence centers to not only have phone hotlines, but other technologies.
Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris wrote the bill to combat a rise in domestic violence by giving those who need help other options to communicate with domestic violence centers. COVID-19 lockdowns and greater home confinement since March of 2020 have, in addition to worsening rates, showed a major flaw in the current system by not having a way for those being abused to quietly ask for help. The few California domestic violence centers with texting and chat found that these options are more favored than phone calls due to the close proximity to abusers as a call might be heard.
“Domestic Violence touches too many of our lives and harms too many of our families,” said Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris. “I have been that 12-year-old girl locked in a bathroom with her mom, hiding from our abuser, so I know that moment of desperation. These additional tools and technologies will give survivors more ways to get help when they desperately need it.”
I have been that 12-year-old girl locked in a bathroom with her mom, hiding from our abuser, so I know that moment of desperation and fear. #AB689 will give survivors of #domesticviolence additional avenues to seek help when they desperately need it. https://t.co/tTtnWgUt5m
— Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (@AsmCottie) September 1, 2021
AB 689 signed into law following unanimous passage in Senate, Assembly
In August, AB 689 was unanimously passed in the Senate 39-0 and in the Assembly 71-0, showing complete bipartisan support. Convincing many lawmakers were the personal stories of survivors who told of the need for a “silent” way of help, as well as hard figures of domestic violence against men and women, including a large 39% bump in police activity related to domestic violence in the Sacramento area last year.
“This was something we needed and something that would protect more people,” Estrella Colon, a domestic violence center operator trainer, told the Globe Wednesday. “A lot of times when women or men call to ask for help, they have to whisper because they’re afraid they might be heard. We actually had one case not too long ago where all we heard were taps over the phone and thought it was a bad connection, only to find out later that they were using Morse code for SOS.”
“So we began asking for more options for texting and chat. In the past few years text to 911 services have been brought up in Oakland and Los Angeles and other places in the state due to this sort of reason. But many domestic violence centers don’t have that sort of capability, even though it was on the rise.”
“AB 689 was needed to help protect abused men, women, and children, and it’s fantastic that both Democrats and Republicans put things aside and agreed on it. You won’t believe how many people this will help. It’s not too often I say this, but the government did their job well today.”
Other bill supporters agreed.
“The pandemic has exposed serious gaps in connecting domestic violence survivors with resources,” added Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). “We need to ensure our policies consider the safest method of communication available to victims reaching out for help. I want to thank Assembly member Petrie-Norris for introducing AB 689, which will make it easier for survivors to reach out when they need help the most.”
Following the signing of AB 689, domestic violence center hotlines are expected to be upgraded in the near future to include the alternate methods.
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