When violence occurs in a relationship, the relationship becomes less powerful, incapable of providing support and a nurturing environment, as it becomes a vehicle for personal destruction and despair. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety (2011), there were 177,983 cases of domestic violence (DV) reported in 2011. Of the total number of incidents reported, 40% were related to spousal abuse, 16% involved a child, and 44% involved another family member. House Bill 21 (HB 21) passed the Texas House of Representative; however, it has not passed the Senate. HB 21 proposes for a registry for those who have been convicted of domestic violence three or more times.
The registry will contain the person’s demographic information, including his or her name, photograph, date of birth, address, and physical description, along with the offenses committed. This information will be available online for the general public to view (Texas Legislature Online, 2012). Although HB 21 ensures awareness for the general public, it does raise some concerns. The bill fails to take into account the following: the fear and blame victims will endure once this registry has been made public, children’s ability to access the online registry, the accountability of offenders, victims’ ability to remain anonymous, and its lack of usefulness, as it is only based in Texas. Besides these barriers, the bill will cause problems when it comes to ruining men’s or women careers and reputations.
Cause of the Problem
Notifying the public about the identity of an offender means that the victim cannot remain anonymous. For instance, registering an abusive spouse may identify his or her mate. Consequently, posting an offender’s name could put the victim in more danger if the offender blames the victim for being on the registry; this may subject the victim to further intimidation or violence in retaliation. Survivors of domestic violence have a higher incidence of suicide and suicide attempts, due to mental stress as a result of living in terror and undergoing emotional torture (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2000).
Moreover, online registration is subject to criticism, and with increased awareness comes increased fear. Abusers may manipulate their victims into believing that the violence is their fault (Powell & Smith, 2011); they have the ability to instill fear. In addition, victims might be afraid of their offenders and thus will not want to cooperate with law officials. For example, a man may feel reluctant to report domestic violence due to fear or embarrassment: fear that he will not be believed or perhaps that authorities might assume he is the perpetrator and not the victim (Prosecuting Attorney, 2012). Likewise, a woman might fear provoking her partner into more violence.
Another risk of establishing the HB 21 online registry is that children could access it. Children who are exposed to records of disputes involving domestic abuse exhibit clinical disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, and social isolation; such exposure can lead to academic difficulties and violent behavior, including self-harm (Fotheringham, Dunbar, & Hensley, 2013).
Moreover, inclusion on the offender registry proposed by HB 21could be ruinous to some people’s careers and reputations. Many people who will be placed on the registry are noncustodial fathers with child support obligations, and the registry will make it much more difficult for them to get and keep employment. Companies refrain from hiring convicts. Thus, when an offender’s name appears on the registry, it means the person has committed a criminal offense. The organization has to provide a safe working environment for staff; thus, it will make it impossible to hire a convicted felon.
Furthermore, the Texas registry could prove its usefulness only if it is connected with other state registries. For example, if a person is searching for a partner’s history on the online registry, and the partner committed an offense in Oklahoma, it would be fruitless unless Oklahoma has a similar registry in place. If connected countrywide, everyone can utilize the registry website’s search tool to obtain location information about offenders residing not only in their own neighborhoods, but also in nearby states and communities (National Sex Offender Public Website, 2005).
HB 21 will not necessarily achieve its intended outcome of increasing victim safety and offender accountability. One of the problems with it is that many abusers are not convicted and thus would not be listed on the registry, making it incomplete, because it could provide a false sense of security if a potential partner’s name is not on it.
Specific Individual, Group, community affected by this problem
A registry is necessary, in part, due to the assumption that if victims knew about a partner’s history, they would leave. Since the majority of victims would be women, leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous. A woman may be a scapegoat as a result of a partner appearing on the registry; thus, leaving could escalate the violence. Women may feel too frightened, confused, or embarrassed to leave, and children may not understand why their mother wants to leave. Furthermore, when HB 21 is made available online, a woman could face fear tactics and intimidation by phone, email, or social networking sites. Also, a child could lose his or her parents through incarceration. Furthermore, children become fearful of their parent under the assumption that they are violent, so they might fear that the violence will turn towards them. Parents- women or men could lose custody or visitation of their children as a result of being on the list. Finally, for those who will be on the list, it is publicly humiliating for them to serve their time and remain on a domestic violence registry for the rest of their lives.
The community loses the structure of the family unit; families are separated, with fathers or mothers incarcerated; therefore, there is a potential for taxpayers to offset the cost of incarceration. In other word, taxpayers will end up paying for some of the incarceration costs because the overall family structure of the community will be jeopardized. Likewise, children are displaced from the family structure, where they learn the process of socialization. The family is the primary agent of socialization, and children learn how social rules, norms, skills, motives, attitudes, and behaviors are shaped appropriately for society. Parents are often the role model that a child will see; they teach their children how to emerge into the community.
Why the problem is Worthy of Attention
House Bill 21 is worthy of attention because of the possible consequences of creating an online domestic violence database, which could pose a frightening threat to victims and even those men and women whose names will appear on the registry. There is a potential for false allegations claims against a man or woman: For example, men who agreed to defer adjudications due to allegation of violence claim in previous years did so without knowing that their decision not to fight their case would place them on a domestic violence offender registry for life. Moreover, the authors of HB 21 never considered the impact children will feel as their parents are placed on the database. Since the proposed bill will be like the Texas sex registry, children would feel ashamed that their parents are registered offenders.
Specific Policy Change Needed to Address the Problem
The first and foremost recommended change needed to HB 21 is to impose a GPS-tracking device for abuser who violate restraining order. A GPS tracking device could make a victim feel safer. Victims may not have to leave in the fear that an abuser on the registry might found where they are because once they are the GPS tracking device could reduce victim anxiety. According to The National Domestic Hotline (2009), GPS-tracking device has a 100% success rate in keeping a woman alive. Furthermore, GPS-tracking device will hold offender accountable its’ been found that and offense has occurred. GPS-tracking device has a quick respond rate when an offender approaches a victim and, thus, the offender can be held accountable for violating a restraining order (National Network to End Domestic Violence (2008). Second, HB 21 should prohibit offenders from buying or carrying a firearm or any other weapon for a period of seven years following a conviction. Folkes, Hilton, and Harris (2013) found that restricting an offender’s access to firearms is an effective way to reduce domestic violence homicides.
An online database shaming a victim online is not the best way to combat violent offenses but the primary concern is the safety victims. HB 21 will act as a deterrent to help minimize the result of violence offenders on its Texas database. However, it does not take into account the possible implications of the online database such as the false allegation that expose a man or woman to the registry or the implication to the current or previous victims of DV. A GPS-tracking device may make the victim feel more secure; the victim knowing that those on the registry list cannot get close to them is assurance. Furthermore, any individual that has been convicted of a criminal act should not be allowed to carry a firearm for a period of seven years after conviction, because of the fear that the individual will use the firearm on victim.