Miss. domestic violence victims and advocates celebrate new confidentiality protections

Domestic violence victims and advocates celebrate new Miss. confidentiality protections

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - There is a victory in Mississippi for domestic violence victims and their advocates with the passage of a law protecting private information which could jeopardize survivors and those acting on their behalf.

Online festivities were held Thursday recognizing the state’s new statute. Spirit fingers waved on computers during the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s virtual celebration of the passage of the Victim-Advocate Confidentiality Law or House Bill 1386.

It protects victim advocates and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking from providing private or personal information in court.

“This gives them a greater level of comfort and knowing that the horrific details of a situation or something about them where they live, what’s going on with them - that type of information can not be openly stated in a court situation,” said Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Wendy Mahoney.

MCADV lobbyist David McDowell began working with lawmakers on the bill in 2016. It was authored by Senator Sally Doty, later joined by Representative Dana McLean.

"When we're creating a space where a shelter or a place of safety is truly a place of safety victims feel more willing, more capable, more empowered to seek shelter," said McDowell.

The law, which went into effect July 1, also protects advocates like Melissa Galatas. She said she has been pressured by a judge to share conversations with clients in court where abusers may have been present, putting the victim in danger.

“If the client thinks I’m gonna turn around and tell the court about what I said, they may not tell me the truth,” said Galatas. “That’s where I’m very excited about this. So that those conversations that I consider sacred will be seen sacred by law.”

The legislation does allow information to be provided to law enforcement and other needed government agencies. Mississippi was one of the last ten states to pass the law.

Copyright 2020 WLBT. All rights reserved.