Four laws centering on domestic violence in Arkansas that passed during this year’s regular legislative session will go into effect Wednesday.
Lawmakers said Monday that they were motivated to create two of the laws in honor of Arkansas women who have been victims of domestic violence. One victim was a survivor. The other did not survive.
In 2011, 21-year-old Laura Aceves was killed by her ex-boyfriend after she reported repeated assaults and obtained a restraining order against him. The mother of three was shot in the head with her newborn baby lying by her side.
In 2012, Laura Webb’s husband ran her over with his truck and left her for dead. Now she has a crushed voice box and titanium plates for hips, Webb said Monday at a news conference with state Reps. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, and Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, the lawmakers who sponsored laws named after her and Aceves.
Douglas said “Laura’s Card” and “Laura’s Law” honor the three faces of domestic violence: the survivor, Webb; the victim who did not survive, Aceves; and the victim’s families who also suffer: Aceves’ mother, also named Laura.
“When we went through this process, victims by the name of Laura were prevalent at that time,” Douglas said.
Act 873, by Douglas and Ballinger, creates a tool, also known as “Laura’s Card,” that law enforcement will give victims in domestic violence cases to ensure they’re aware of resources available to them.
An explanation of the victim's rights along with information about medical, housing, counseling, financial, social, legal and emergency services available will be on the card. Information about obtaining compensation under the Crime Victims Reparation Act is also included.
The card will “empower victims to make decisions,” Douglas said. “They’re not going to able to make those decisions unless they know what their rights are and what services are available to them.”
Act 877, by Douglas and Ballinger, requires police conduct a lethality assessment, asking victims a set of questions to assess their level of risk of being killed by domestic violence.
Also known as “Laura’s Law,” Act 877 will help officers identify victims most at risk of being killed in a domestic dispute and intervene accordingly.
“It’s a tool law enforcement can use to help them figure out and work through their situation,” Ballinger said.
Act 952, by Douglas, requires Arkansas schools to include domestic and dating-violence in health curricula.
“What we were finding is that the Department of Education, in the curriculum for health teachers, had a piece on dating violence but many of the schools were not teaching that because other things were important,” Douglas said.
In health classes there will be an emphasis on domestic violence in October, Douglas said, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
In February, teachers will focus on teen dating violence, she said.
The hope is teenagers will be able to identify signs of abusive behavior. Douglas said the law is a “proactive way to help break some of those cycles of violence that we see repeating as teens get older.”
Act 876, by Ballinger and Douglas, allows for victimless prosecution of domestic-violence cases. The law gives prosecutors and law enforcement power to investigate and prosecute domestic violence crimes without requiring the victims to testify.