Bill proposes longer prison sentence if children witness violent - | WBTV Charlotte

Bill proposes longer prison sentence if children witness violent crimes

Mecklenburg County, NC -

It's bad enough a violent crime is committed but therapists say it's even worse when children witness violence. That's why Mecklenburg County officials are proposing a bill to make it an aggravating factor  - leading to a longer sentence - if a child witnesses a violent crime.

"You essentially create a second victim when you commit a crime in front of a child" said Brian Francis, Mecklenburg County's Legislative Liaison. "We all know violence begets violence."

Francis said county officials decided to propose the bill with the aggravating factor because the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team discovered that half of the domestic violence murders were committed in front of a child.

The proposed bill covers all violent crime.

The county is asking legislators to stiffen prison time if a defendant is convicted.

"If you commit a violent crime in front of a child, you know you're doing it in front of a child - you could potentially have a longer prison sentence" said Francis. "As long as the child is not a participant or the victim. This is a situation where you're committing the crime against somebody else and the child is witnessing."

"Kids who are exposed to violence can have an array of problems" said Sarah Greene, a licensed clinical social worker who works with Mecklenburg County's Child Development and Community Policing. Charlotte Mecklenburg Police call these social workers out to violent crime scenes where children were witnesses. "They can have anything from physical ailments - medical problems to behavior problems, difficulty learning, difficulty concentrating, problems controlling their emotions and they can eventually become perpetrators of violence themselves."

Greene said her office had over 3,000 families referred per year.

"We have referrals for robberies, sexual assaults, assaults by strangers - all kinds of different things."

She said the bill is needed.

"There will be more attention to the fact that it's really a worse problem than if children were not there."

Melissa Summitt's son is one of the children who once witnessed violence.

"For my son - it wasn't just him being in the room. There was glass in the crib, his crib was cracked from the incident" said Summitt, a domestic violence survivor whose son saw the beating she endured. "He and I had a hard time adjusting to the feeling of being secure after we were gone. It was a very difficult time."

Summitt now works with Mecklenburg County's Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team.

"It carries on generation after generation" she said of children being exposed to violence. "It's very impactful to the children. It doesn't go away. It's with them forever."

Summitt believes the legislation - if passed - will send a message.

"This is a serious crime. It isn't just about an argument or just about somebody's family having a bad day. This is about real impacts to people."

County officials were hoping the General Assembly would hear the bill during this short session. But legislators won't take it up until next session.

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