A trio of New Jersey lawmakers are seeking to strengthen penalties for domestic violence offenders after a disturbing case in Atlantic County last year.

Domestic Violence
Sami Sarkis, Getty Images

Andrea Strony was assaulted for over two hours by her now ex-boyfriend in Brigantine on July 28, 2014. Despite being repeatedly and viciously beaten, her attacker was not sent to prison. He was charged with simple assault because Strony's injuries weren't deemed severe enough to warrant an aggravated assault charge.

In a letter written by Strony to her local state lawmakers, she described the brutality of her attack and the trauma she endured.

"The attack lasted for over two hours. After taking my phone, computer and car keys and blocking my exits, I endured repeated physical attacks. He closed fist punched me, kicked me over and over and slammed my head into walls, wooden bed frames and tile floors. He called me horrific names as I begged him to stop the attack. I tried to hide in a bathroom, but he broke through the door and punched a hole in the wall. He was relentless and motivated throughout the assault. The police were finally able to be contacted and he was arrested immediately," Strony wrote.

Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Clinton) said after meeting with Strony and learning the facts behind her case, he felt compelled to do something. Peterson along with Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Freehold) and Pam Lampitt (D-Voorhees) has introduced legislation to increase the penalties for domestic violence-related simple assault. The measure would make any incident that involves domestic violence a crime of the fourth degree, and a second or subsequent offense to a crime of the third degree.

"Somebody who does this will get some jail time at the very least," Peterson said. "I was raised that a man never hits a woman, period. You're pretty much a low-life if you do. You should be punished accordingly."

Casagrande points to New Jersey's startling statistics as another reason why the state's domestic violence laws need more teeth. In 2014, the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women and its member programs responded to 29,977 calls for domestic violence information.

Other statistics provided by New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women revealed:

  • In 2014, there was a 5 percent increase in total calls to domestic violence hotlines, with programs responding to 93,592 calls;
  • The number of women sheltered in 2014 (1,398) decreased slightly from 2013 (1,401). One male victim was sheltered in 2014;
  • 17 percent of women sheltered in 2014 were previously sheltered;
  • The average length of stay at shelters across the state was 34 days;
  • Coalition member programs sheltered 1,552 children in 2014, a 3.9 percent decrease from the 2013 total of 1,615.

"Domestic violence is an ongoing concern and a serious health problem," said Elaine Meyerson, executive director of the Center for Hope and Safety. "It crosses all boundaries are far as religion, socioeconomic, race (and) age. It's much more prevalent than people really believe."

The state should always be looking to redefine, revise and take a closer look to improve domestic violence laws, according to Meyerson.



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