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Cruz doubles down on fight against domestic violence

(Press Release) In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness month and the ten million children who suffer from violence within their homes every year, Vice Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz has introduced new legislation that doubles down on punishment for perpetrators of domestic assault. Under Bill No. 378-33 (COR), anyone who, after committing a crime of family violence, prevents a victim from reporting will be convicted of a third degree felony under Guam law.

The measure is the second bill recently introduced by Cruz to identify the escalating warning signs of domestic violence and punish abusers. Last week, the former Family Court judge introduced Bill No. 373-33 (COR), a measure that updates Guam’s family violence statutes by adding strangulation as an act of violence against family or household members,

“Family violence harms more than its immediate victims. It creates a circle of abuse that touches every member of the home for generations. When children, parents, a partner, or a spouse believe they can't get help—people die,” said Cruz, who introduced Bill No. 378-33 (COR) late Friday afternoon. “That’s why this bill is necessary. If you work to prevent someone from getting help after an act of family violence, you are a clear and present danger to those in your home, and you should suffer the full weight of the law.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 50% of family violence cases never actually reach the police, making domestic violence one of the most consistently under-reported crimes in the United States. Often, perpetrators will hinder or disconnect 911 calls—preventing victims from reporting the crime or receiving help. As a result, several states have enacted legislation that make interfering with reporting a standalone crime.

Cruz, who recently participated in the 2016 Domestic Violence Conference hosted by the Pacific Judicial Council, discovered that there is currently no specific statutory provision on interfering with the reporting of domestic violence crimes under Guam law. As a result, Bill No. 378-33 (COR) adds language in Guam’s family violence and assault statutes that clearly defines interference as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” preventing a victim or witness from contacting emergency services, receiving medical assistance, or filing a report with local law enforcement.

Moreover, under Cruz’s measure, a person who commits interference after committing a crime of family violence will face up to five years imprisonment—a mandate that ensures perpetrators face stiffer penalties for preventing reports.

“While those who experience family violence should come forward and protect themselves, this community is responsible for creating an environment that allows them to report abuse without fear, shame, or economic hardship,” said Cruz. “If you witness family violence, report it. If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, get help and we will stand by you.”

The Committee on Public Safety will conduct a public hearing for both Bill No. 378 and Bill No. 373 on October 10, 2016.

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