Two years after the murder of a New Jersey mother of two, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would increase protection for victims of domestic violence and the children of those families.
In June 2008, Monica Paul was shot and killed, allegedly by her estranged boyfriend, in a north Jersey YMCA while her 4-year-old son was in swimming class. The couple’s 11-year-old daughter witnessed the incident. Ms. Paul had taken out a restraining order against the boyfriend, Kenneth Duckett, shortly before the shooting. (1)
This year, four New Jersey lawmakers introduced “Monica’s Law” in memory of Ms. Paul. The pending legislation would required risk assessments be conducted under certain circumstances to give judges information necessary for determining whether or not victims of domestic violence and their children are in danger of additional harm. This law calls for pilot programs to be tried out in Essex and Passaic counties.
Under the pilot programs, risk assessments would be conducted before visitation and child custody matters were decided. Persons filing for a restraining order against their partner would be required to reveal if they and the partner had any children together; if the partner ever threatened to, or used, a weapon; and if the partner actually threatened them or their children with violence. This information would be included with the restraining order application and assessed by a court-appointed expert. (2)
The assessment would also consider whether the children were ever hurt or threatened with harm, emotional of physical, or with neglect; the victim was physically harmed, including suffocation, choking or sexually assault; or the victim believed the defendant would attempt to kill them or the children or kidnap the children. (2)
Risk assessments would be required in cases where a restraining order had been violated or when child visitation rights had been issued.
Even in cases where children are not physically harmed or threatened, witnessing incidents of domestic violence can cause them emotional harm. Experts contend that this also increases the risk the children themselves will become victims of physical harm in the future. It is hoped that this law, which is before the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee, will end this violent cycle and keep children safe. (3)