Last week, Ohio House Rep. Janine Boyd announced that she intends to draft legislation to help prevent domestic violence. The law is named for the late Aisha Fraser, a Shaker Heights teacher who was violently stabbed to death, presumably by her ex-husband, Lance Mason. Mason is a former Ohio state representative and senator, Cuyahoga County judge and Frank Jackson ally.
The law seeks reform of Ohio’s domestic violence statutes to identify and protect people who are at a high risk of abuse. Prior to her violent killing, Mason pled guilty to charges of attempted felonious assault and domestic violence against Fraser. Her injuries were so severe that she won a civil settlement of $150,000 for reconstructive surgery.
Despite the ferocity of the assault and the grave nature of Fraser’s injuries, courts failed to deny Mason visitation rights to his children. Police stated that Mason stabbed his ex-wife outside his home after she had dropped the children off for a court-mandated visit.
Aisha’s Law offers reforms that could have saved Fraser’s life. Firstly, it implements protocols based on the “11 Questions” assessment. This process evaluates probability of further serious domestic violence through a questionnaire designed to identify risk factors. One affirmative answer of the first three questions would trigger a protocol referral. Of the remaining eight, protocols would be enacted if four are answered affirmatively. Following referral, victims are provided resources for housing, safety and rehabilitation.
This process has proven successful elsewhere, most notably in Oklahoma when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a similar bill in 2014.
Additionally, this legislation would make it impossible for plea deals to be given to domestic abusers with violent records. Convicted offenders will receive longer sentences and less court-permitted contact with their victims. Passing this legislation will send a message that Ohio will protect victims and justly punish abusers.
I’m confident that Boyd will be joined enthusiastically by her Republican colleagues. These laws tend to be popular with conservatives: Oklahoma and Indiana saw such policies enacted when Republicans were in the legislative majority and the Governor’s office, after all. Further, the current administration seems dedicated to tackling this issue. Gov. Mike DeWine has taken laudable initiative to prevent domestic violence; in his first weeks in office, he signed an executive order to protect state employees who are at risk of domestic violence.
Eliminating leniency towards abusers is a valiant cause. Yet, more must be done. For one, high mandatory minimums sentences should be instituted to punish offenses. To increase reporting and reduce abuse, a public relations campaign should be mounted to educate Ohioans on available resources for victims and the consequences offenders face. Laws must be strengthened to ensure faith-based and localized resources are available to victims, providing them needed aspects of family, spiritual, and community support.
Disregarding current deficiencies, Boyd’s proposal will demand the strong backing of the General Assembly. Such legislation will prevent domestic abuse and punish abusers. For this reason, it should be a major priority for the General Assembly in 2019 and beyond.
Leo Thuman, Class of 2020