Domestic Violence

Lawmakers Weigh Changes to Domestic Violence Laws After NBC10 Report

An NBC10 investigation in November revealed gaps in the reporting process -- particularly within the health care industry. Lawmakers in two states now say they introduce legislation to improve tracking of domestic violence.

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Pennsylvania and New Jersey lawmakers plan to introduce legislation and hold hearings following an NBC10 investigation in November that found gaps in domestic violence data and reporting requirements, making it difficult to track abuse. 

Most of the domestic violence data is siloed by the agency that delivered services -- be it advocacy agency hotline calls, 911 calls, or requests for protection from abuse orders. But there is an entire industry that simply doesn’t keep data on domestic violence: health care. 

The Pennsylvania Hospital and Healthcare Association said that, following the NBC10 report, it too plans to take a "deeper dive" into the reporting issue.

"Hospitals not having a record of incidents means we are that much less prepared to address domestic violence," Pennsylvania state Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, told NBC10.

To read and watch the original report titled "The ‘Dirty Little Secret' Keeping Domestic Violence Hidden in a Pandemic," click HERE.

Haywood plans to introduce legislation in the spring that would require a uniform data collection for hospitals.

Fear of the coronavirus may have contributed to a decline in domestic violence victims coming in to hospitals. NBC10 Investigators' Claudia Vargas explains how hospitals treat victims. You can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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On the other side of the state, Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny, said she plans to meet with hospital officials and possibly hold a hearing.

"What is the best way for this to be implemented? What is the additional manpower behind it and what's the cost of the health care systems?" Mihalek asked of the way to implement new rules.

But she said there are challenges to asking hospitals to keep statistics.

"A lot of times victims are just reluctant to either admit or tell somebody that they have been abused," Mihalek said.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey state laws require doctors and hospital managers to report to police anyone who comes in with “serious bodily injuries” or with injuries that were inflicted by a deadly weapon — such as a firearm, knife or other tools that could lead to death. However, those injuries are reported as general trauma and no distinction is made if the injuries were a result of domestic violence, or caused by an intimate partner.

Yet, in Pennsylvania, a domestic violence victim can decline to consent to the hospital reporting that victim’s injuries to police.

This video includes descriptions of domestic violence and abuse that some may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised. You can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. NBC10 Investigators' Claudia Vargas reports.

New Jersey requires the reporting of domestic homicides.

In the Garden State, state Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, said he's been talking to domestic violence advocates about potential legislation to update domestic violence reporting.

The state's Office of Domestic Violence Services said through a spokeswoman that the agency supports efforts to better identify and quantify domestic violence incidents as long as the victims' confidentiality is protected.

"We'll draft legislation, we will have a hearing to discuss them and then likely vote them in and move the process along," Vitale said.

The NBC10 Investigators report last month into domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic found that there are gaps in data and reporting requirements, making it difficult to say for certain whether there was an increase in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Every domestic abuse situation is different and is not always physical. NBC10 Investigative Reporter Claudia Vargas explains how emotional and financial abuse unfolds in relationships.

Most of the domestic violence data is siloed by the agency that delivered services -- be it advocacy agency hotline calls, 911 calls, or requests for protection from abuse orders. But there is an entire industry that simply doesn’t keep data on domestic violence: health care. 

Data on Victims of Domestic Violence is Pieced Together County by County, Agency by Agency

Data collected from responding counties and domestic violence advocacy agencies by NBC 10 show percentage change by month from 2019 to 2020 across three metrics used to measure domestic violence data.

Data for certain categories per county may not be available month-to-month.
Data: NBC 10 Philadelphia • Nina Lin / NBC

The region’s hospitals, which normally see a steady stream of domestic violence victims, do not track the domestic abuse cases that come through the emergency room or during routine doctor visits. Advocates say the lack of data among hospitals allows the health care industry to sweep the issue of domestic violence under the rug. 

“It’s that dirty little secret that we still want to keep under, hidden underneath,” said Karen Dougherty, a forensic nurse at Abington Hospital. “And as long as it is hidden, it’s never going to go away.”

If you or someone you know needs help, they can call:

  • New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-572-SAFE (7233)
  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 1-800-932-4632 
  • Delaware Domestic Violence Hotline, Kent and Sussex Counties 302-422-8058
  • Delaware Domestic Violence Hotline, New Castle County 302-762-6110 
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