- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A bill that bears down on offenders who commit violent crimes in the presence of minors is moving its way through the Maryland legislature and, if passed into law, may help to protect children from ongoing trauma by seeking enhanced penalties for the perpetrator.
The bill passed in the Maryland House of Delegates early this month, completing part of the process of becoming a law. In the House, the bill received 136 “yeas” and zero “nays,” with one delegate not voting and four absent, reinforcing Calvert County Crisis Intervention Center Director David Gale’s belief that passing the bill into law is important and necessary.
“The goal of the bill is to make society more aware that violence in front of children will perpetuate for future generations,” Gale said. “If we want to stop it, we have to make sure there are consequences for those types of behaviors.”
If the bill passes the Senate and becomes law, taking violent action in Maryland with a child between the ages of 2 and 18 within sight or hearing of the altercation could result in up to five years of added prison time for the offender, according to documents from the Maryland General Assembly.
While committing a violent crime in front of a child will not merit its own charge, prosecutors will have the option to call for the enhanced penalties after the violent crime takes place and other charges have been filed.
Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin does not believe the proposed law would prove a deterrent for violent offenders, but she strongly supports the bill for another positive potential outcome.
“When people commit these offenses, they’re either not thinking about their children, or they don’t care. The anger takes over, and they’re not thinking about anything other than the subject of their anger,” she said. “I see [the bill] more as a tool for law enforcement to be able to keep the offender away from the victim for a longer period of time — where the victims can be safe, where the kids can grow up.”
Although the bill encompasses all violent crimes, including assault, murder, kidnapping, rape and other sexual offenses, the bill is closely related to domestic violence, as every day in the U.S., three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner, according the general assembly documents.
Every year in the U.S., about 15.5 million are exposed to domestic violence, the documents state.
This exposure can lead to depression, psychological and social issues and increased substance abuse in kids as they grow up, Gale said.
What’s more, Gale said, is that boys who witness domestic violence as children are more likely to be violent themselves, and girls who do so may more readily accept more abuse in their own lives, as this behavior will have been normalized in their minds.
Gale believes it’s important to educate each generation about the nature of domestic violence in order to bring down rates. Holding violent offenders accountable for exposing kids to violence, he said, is part of that.
“It’s another tool in our arsenal,” Martin said.