new legislation aims to protect domestic abuse victims and their pets

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on May 13 2015

It can be hard to understand the fear and uncertainty victims of domestic abuse face every minute of every day. Many people ask, “Why don’t they leave?” but the decision to stay or leave is not black and white.

A full third of domestic violence victims delay leaving an abusive situation because of concern for their pets. Not only do they fear for their own safety, but they also worry about the safety of their other family members, both two- and four-legged. Pets and children are often a target for abusers as a way to gain control over their partners. By threatening loved ones (including pets), an abuser can cruelly manipulate the victim.

Two congresswomen seek to address this problem with new legislation they introduced in March called the Pet and Women Safety Act of 2015, otherwise known as HR 1258, and also otherwise known as the PAWS Act.

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When you stop to think about the fact that only 3% of the nation’s domestic violence shelters accept pets, you can get a better understanding of why victims would even consider staying in a dangerous situation. Surveys of domestic violence survivors have sadly shown that between 49% and 86% of survivors’ pets had been threatened, harmed or killed by their partners. Would you leave your pet in the hands of an abuser?

Domestic abuse victims should not have to choose between their safety and the safety of their pets, many of whom are considered family.

Thankfully, in the future, domestic abuse victims may no longer have to worry about where to go with their pet when they leave a dangerous situation. Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced to the House the PAWS Act, which seeks to expand the federal Personal Protection Order law to include pets of domestic violence victims. The PAWS Act also seeks to establish a federal grant program to assist in providing safe shelter for pets of domestic violence victims, including dating violence, sexual assault and stalking victims.

The general sense of the legislation is that Congress should encourage the protection of pets of domestic violence victims as well as the victims themselves, which is good news for victims who already have too many worries on their minds. Removing even just one roadblock to leaving can empower victims, and may just save their lives and the lives of their beloved pets.

To date, the legislation has 72 cosponsors who back keeping all family members safe from domestic violence. As you may recall from your Schoolhouse Rock days, the bill will have to pass the House and then the Senate before being passed off to the President to be signed into law.

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