The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

State senate has failed victims of domestic violence

Last week, a bill that would allow domestic violence as grounds for an at-fault divorce died in the Mississippi senate committee. There are currently 12 grounds for at-fault divorce in our state, and had Senate Bill 2418 passed, domestic abuse would have joined this list. 

Instead, Mississippi must wait until next session for legislation that further protects victims of domestic violence. This is unfortunate. However, in the meantime, we must not overlook the urgency surrounding intimate partner violence. The state senate’s failure to pass Bill 2418  is  inexcusable—and carries grave consequences. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will become victims of intimate partner violence at some point during their lifetimes. Although domestic abuse has been historically considered an issue to be handled within the home, recent legislation— such as the 1994 Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA)—has worked to police and punish domestic abusers, as well as protect victims of  domestic abuse.

The VAWA specifically allocated grants to support shelters that help victims escape and recover from abusive relationships. Even with the increase in resources for victims over the past three decades, there remains a need to better protect the many individuals still trapped in abusive relationships. 

During casual discussions of domestic violence, a question I hear far too often is: “Why don’t victims just leave?” This question completely discounts conditions of abusive relationships that make “just leaving” difficult—and in some cases nearly impossible. 

Stacy Mallicoat, author of Women and Crime, points out that many women make attempts to leave but are not typically successful until the seventh or eighth attempt, if at all. 

Abusive relationships look very different depending on the circumstances, but research has found some commonalities between the majority of them. 

Due to the controlling nature of domestic abuse, victims often find themselves financially dependent on the abuser. This leaves the victim without many financial resources for escaping and then supporting themselves.

A victim must also weigh the risks of retaliation when attempting escape. A study by the non-profit Building Futures Free From Violence found that women who leave a relationship are at a 75 percent greater risk of being killed than those who stay. Whether it is out of concern for personal safety, children’s well-being or financial insecurity, there are numerous reasons that can make “just leaving” an almost insurmountable task. 

Anyone who recognizes these challenges can understand why the state senate’s inattentive dismissal of Senate Bill 2418 is unacceptable.

As already listed in section 93-5-1 of the Mississippi Code, at-fault divorces may be granted in the case of “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” The amendment proposed in Senate Bill 2418 went further by specifying domestic abuse as either causing bodily injury or attempting physical menace that puts a spouse in fear of imminent danger. 

This amendment would have retained the need for clear and convincing evidence of abuse, but it would have rightfully reduced the burden of proof on abuse victims. They would no longer have to prove that abuse is habitual. 

While the senate found this well and good, what truly tanked this bill was an additional amendment tacked on during the first committee meeting. This amendment was what proposed the allowance of at-fault divorce, if continued, willful separation lasting longer than three years. For some reason, this component of the bill troubled many members of the legislature, who inexcusably allowed it to die in committee. 

Granting victims of domestic abuse grounds for at-fault divorce by no means solves the issue of domestic violence, but it would have been a major step in the right direction. It would have provided victims of abuse the additional legal backing needed to leave their unsafe marriages. 

Although many legislators have promised to work harder next year for the passage of Bill 2418, I do not think putting it off is acceptable. I find it hard to believe that this promise from members of the legislature will carry much comfort for victims of domestic violence as they fight to survive another year. 

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State senate has failed victims of domestic violence