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EDITORIAL: Cellphone providers should protect victims of domestic violence

The York Dispatch

Cellphones are a lifeline, but for some domestic violence victims they can also be a trap.

Abusers can use cellphones to see who a partner has contacted, track their whereabouts and cut them off from friends and family.

And victims who try to break away from their abusers can find themselves coming up against another barrier: their cellphone carrier.

Terminating a contract can cost hundreds of dollars, money many domestic violence victims don't have. If they're in a plan with their abuser, the victim trying to remove themselves or the abuser from the plan can find themselves getting the runaround from the company, unable to get a new cellphone number until they pay off the contract, unable to pay the contract and unable to break away from the abuser who can find their phone.

A new bill introduced by state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, would require cellphone companies to give new phone numbers to domestic abuse victims within 24 hours. The victims would need to provide proof of abuse, such as a police report, protection from abuse order or affidavit from a medical professional.

As Schreiber told his colleagues, "being able to hide from or avoid an assailant or abuser may be the difference between life and death."

This should be a no-brainer: Cellphone companies need to provide this assistance for people trying to escape a nightmare of abuse.

And yet, Schreiber said, cellphone providers worked to defeat a similar bill in New York.

We understand that these companies need to make money and that breaking a contract is something that should have repercussions.

But it's hard to see how making it impossible for a woman to keep her cellphone with her while she's trying to break away from a violent relationship could possibly be the right thing to do.

There comes a point where you have to choose between money and lives. We can only hope cellphone providers prove they can make the right choice and not fight this bill.