At any given time an abuser is stalking a woman who has sought refuge in a domestic violence center, but under Florida law, there is nothing law enforcement can do to stop the harassment.
New legislation may soon give them a tool to take action.
Florida is one of 19 states that require the location of domestic violence safe houses or shelters to be confidential, but it’s also one of 11 nationally with no penalties for disclosure by someone other than a shelter employee.
“We’ve had continuous problems over the years with abusers or their friends or their family finding out where the shelter is located, and then essentially stalking the victims outside the shelter, waiting for them to leave,” said Emily Mitchem, Executive Director of Refuge House.
But legislation would make it a misdemeanor for disclosing where a shelter is located. A second offense would be a felony.
“Multiple domestic centers in Florida have reported drones flying over the confidential shelter, recording the video and publishing the confidential information online,” said State Senator Ileana Garcia, who is sponsoring the bill.
The legislation has already gotten tentative approval in the Senate and final vote could come as early as this week.
A second bill would protect the staffs’ identity.
“And they stalked one of the staffers who work at the domestic violence staffer. Followed them to their car, and demanding information about their victims. This particular staffer was so just horrified about the entire incident, she actually quit,” said bill sponsor Representative David Borrero.
The legislation is a tool shelter directors are looking forward to having.
“I think it will be as really helpful tool for law enforcement because right now they have no way to discourage or stop that type of behavior,” said Mitchem.
The legislation could face a first amendment challenge.
If that happens, the state would have to prove there was a compelling interest in protecting victims
A first offense for disclosing the information could land someone a year in jail and a thousand dollar fine.
A second offense jumps to as many as five years behind bars and a five thousand dollar fine.