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Las Vegas Changes Domestic Violence Laws, Advocates Say Victims In More Danger

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Hanna Barczyk for NPR

The city of Las Vegas decided it would stop charging people with misdemeanors for domestic violence. 

It was in response to a Nevada Supreme Court decision that said defendants in such cases were entitled to jury trials. 

Instead, the city will prosecute those types of cases as simple battery. 

It’s a move that victim advocates are saying could put domestic violence victims in danger. 

Liz Ortenburger is the CEO of SafeNest, a nonprofit that provides shelter for victims and their children. 

She said the problem with the city's decision is it strips away some of the key ramifications of charging someone with domestic violence specifically. Firstly, simple battery doesn't include an escalation clause. 

When someone is charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, after three charges in seven years, the charges are escalated to a felony.

“What we know about the data of domestic violence and the cycle of violence is that each time there is a violent incident the chances are that violence is continuing,” Ortenburger said.

Another problem with simple battery is the counseling element. When someone is charged with domestic violence they are required to go through counseling. 

SafeNest offers that type of counseling as a way to address the underlying childhood trauma and modifying a batterer's behavior.

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And finally, when someone is charged with domestic violence and not simple battery, their firearm could be taken away. With a firearm still in the home, it is more dangerous for the victims and for the officers who respond to calls of domestic violence.

“By not removing the weapons, we are now creating a situation where victims are at a higher probability of homicide and our police officers are at a higher probability of being shot,” Ortenburger said.

Ortenburger said she understands that the city is trying to find a way around a difficult situation but moving to simple battery isn't the solution. Instead, she would like to see a larger restructuring of the entire system.

“Nevada has a massive domestic violence issue and we keep incrementally changing things but we have not made massive system-wide change and unfortunately, the supreme court has now done that and the reality of the supreme court doing it is that there is no implementation time,” she said.

The decision by the court meant that changes had to be made immediately. 

Ortenburger believes it is time for the governor to call a special session of the Legislature to address the situation in the short term - but in the long term, she would like to see a real change like a specialty court just for domestic violence cases. 

“We don’t disagree with the supreme court’s ruling but how we handle it as a state and as a system will reflect for generations on how we feel that domestic violence is important enough to invest in ending it,” she said.


If you're experiencing domestic violence, contact:

SafeNest at 702-646-4981

Shade Tree  702-385-0072

SafeHouse

Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence

Editor's note: A previous version of this story erroneously stated misdemeanor domestic violence charges are escalated to a felony after seven charges in seven years. It has now been corrected to reflect the accurate number, three.

Guests

Liz Ortenburger, CEO, SafeNest 

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