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Domestic violence bills stagnant in Ohio despite fewer opponents, News 5 analysis shows

Domestic violence bills stagnant in Ohio despite fewer opponents, News 5 analysis shows
Posted at 6:27 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 18:57:36-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Domestic violence bills tend to have the least amount of opponents, yet disproportionately don't pass, according to a News 5 analysis.

When News 5 last spoke to Diona Clark in Feb., she was excitedly gearing up for the passage of Aisha's Law — a bill that would provide more protections for domestic violence survivors like herself. But seven months later, she feels stuck.

"People are not understanding the urgency and importance of making sure that there are laws that are put in place for the safety of our survivors," Clark said.

The team analyzed 30 bills introduced between Jan 1, 2021, and May 5, 2022 that revolve around domestic violence and sexual assault. Of them, with many being bipartisan, only three passed. But just that statistic doesn't tell the full story.

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"The number passed is just tiny compared to the number introduced," Ohio Domestic Violence Network Executive Director Mary O'Doherty said. "I'm not so sure that it's any harder to file to get a domestic violence bill passed than any other bill."

In comparison to the total amount of bills introduced during that same time period, the ratio was relatively the same at about 10%. However, News 5 also accounted for the number of hearings that each bill had and how many had public opponents.

Domestic violence bills had no or significantly fewer public opponents than any other type of bill, but about half had no hearings (11) or the bill just had one (3).

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State Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) has introduced numerous bills trying to add protections for victims and survivors, but they have all stalled.

"The only thing I can come up with is that majority of the people who are survivors, who are victims of these kinds of crimes are women," Antonio said. "It just doesn't seem to be a priority to have policies that would protect women in the Ohio Legislature right now."

She credited that to a lack of interest, with Clark agreeing.

"What I noticed was that as I was going on telling my story, a lot of [the lawmakers] were so disengaged," the survivor said. "They were in their phones and so I looked at that as, 'oh, you're not paying attention because it doesn't affect you.'"

Both Democratic and Republican women, in addition to some bipartisan men, have proposed these types of laws. However, leadership is all male. Less than 30% of the General Assembly are women. Having less of one gender isn't the only cause of this, though.

Gender doesn't mean that someone is going to gravitate and push for domestic violence and sexual assault type of bills, but what women bring to the policymaking sphere is the life experience of growing up as a girl and then an adult woman, Antonio said.

"I think there would be some sensitivity to these kinds of issues and a little more relating to the survivors, because whether it's ourselves, our sisters, daughters, mothers, cousins, we all know someone who's been touched by both sexual assault and domestic violence," the senator said. "What women who are in the policy arena often do is take their understanding of those kinds of issues and then are motivated to turn their understanding into action and that action is advancing good public policy to make change for the better."

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O'Doherty agreed, adding that the movement may also be slow because changing the status quo takes time, effort, years and money.

"The problem is that you're asking court systems to change the way they work," the advocate said. "The people with power want to hold on to the power they have."

Clark insisted that if the majority of politicians really wanted to make these bills happen, they easily could.

"Why is it so hard to get this bill passed with so many people affected...in a harsh way?" Clark asked. "We look at other different laws that, at the snap of a thumb, they're in place — overnight it's a law. But why is it so hard to put a law in that makes sense?"

The women agree that domestic violence bills face an uphill battle, but each promises they will continue to climb.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.