Missouri lawmakers to consider removing barrier for domestic violence victims

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - There are a lot of reasons why victims of domestic abuse don't just leave their situation. Advocates say, many times it's more difficult and dangerous than you might think. Now, Missouri lawmakers will consider removing at least one obstacle to escaping the violence.

Photo courtesy: MGN

It might surprise you that one of the biggest challenges for someone who has just escaped a domestic violence situation could be getting a copy of a birth certificate. It only costs $15 at the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, but for someone trying to start a new life, that seemingly small fee might be too much.

Janice Thompson is a domestic violence survivor who now advocates for victims.

"He assaulted me. During the course of that, he strangled me. Nobody really recognized strangling as a big red flag, but it was about four hours that he held me in the home and assaulted me," Thompson said.

Before Thompson made her final escape, she had the chance to get her personal documents together to take with her.

According to Lisa Farmer, the Executive Director for Harmony House, not many like Thompson have that precious time. In fact, Farmer said, many victims show up at her door with just the clothes on their back.

"In most every case, they've been denied access to the family bank account, so when they flee, they flee with nothing," Farmer said.

These advocates said, in order for survivors to start over, vital records are just that, vital.

"You can do very little in today's society without personal identification," Farmer said.

The two said personal records are critical in getting a job, renting an apartment, getting a passport, etc.

"People are going to want to see it, they're going to want proof of who you are," Thompson said.

Farmer said only a fraction of the victims at Harmony House have any source of income, and they cannot afford even a 15-dollar fee for a copy of their birth certificate.

"So it ends up falling to the shelters," Farmer said. "We spent about $5,000 last year just on birth certificates."

That's because, Farmer said, it's not just the adult survivors who need identification, but their kids do, too.

Now, Missouri lawmakers will consider waiving the fee once for birth certificates for domestic violence victims who are working with an agency like Harmony House.

House Bill 1300 was pre-filed by Rep. Chris Dinkins (R-Annapolis). She filed the same bill during the 2019 session. It passed in the House of Representatives, but Dinkins said the session ended before the bill was seen on the Senate floor.

"The general public does not understand all of the barriers survivors face in trying to leave and how hard it is and how dangerous it is," Farmer said.

Farmer and Thompson said the fee is just one of those barriers and removing it could give more victims a chance to survive.

"It really is a big deal, because all these little steps can be the one setback that sends you back into a dangerous situation," Thompson said.

Both Farmer and Thompson recommend anyone in an abusive situation prepare a safety plan for when they are ready to leave. They said, get those personal documents, medical records, clothes, money and medication packed up and keep it all where your abuser cannot find it.

For more information about personal safety plans and resources Harmony House offers, click HERE.

To read the full House Bill, click HERE.

Thompson also advocated with MeToo Springfield to get Springfield City Council to waive the fees for domestic and sexual assault survivors to gain access to their assault records through the Springfield Police Department.