October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and one New Jersey lawmaker is looking to make it a crime to commit a domestic violence act in the presence of a child who is 16 years or younger.  Assemblywoman Celeste Riley has introduced the legislation as the month gets underway.

Domestic Violence
Flickr User Samantha Celera

"Many children who have witnessed domestic abuse at home develop emotional and behavioral problems that impact their development.  They often carry that scar into adulthood and see violence as an appropriate reaction to conflict.  It's a sickening cycle with dangerous consequences," said Riley.  "This bill recognizes that in a household inflicted by domestic violence, children who witness the abuse are victims as well and creates the appropriate punishment."

The measure would provide that when a domestic violence act takes place in front of a child who is 16 years old or younger, the abuser would be subject to criminal prosecution for both the offense and for the separate crime of committing the act in the presence of a child.  But, the bill would not require that the person be convicted of the underlying offense in order to be convicted of committing the act in front of a child.

Committing an act of domestic violence in the presence of a child would be a fourth degree crime, if the underlying offense is a disorderly persons offense or petty offense.  Otherwise, it would be graded one degree higher than the most serious underlying offense.

A fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, or both.  A third degree crime means three to five years in prison, up to a $15,000 fine, or both.  A second degree crime can result in five to 10 years behind bars, up to a $15,000 fine, or both while a first degree crime is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison, up to a $200,000 fine, or both.

"Children who witness abuse are silent victims.  The fear and helplessness these children must feel when seeing one parent abuse the other is heartbreaking and has serious implications on their mental well-being," said Riley.  "Research shows that children who witness violence are at risk for confounding problems such as failing at school, committing violence against others and suffering low self-esteem.  It is a parent's responsibility to protect their children, but if they can't, we as a state should remind them that this type of behavior is not acceptable and that there will be consequences for their actions."


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