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New state law offers more protection for domestic abuse and sexual assault victims

Starting July 1, they're are able to terminate their rental lease with certain requirements.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking now have more protections under a new law.

Starting July 1, they're are able to terminate their rental lease with certain requirements.

Spanish Version: Nueva ley estatal ofrece más protección a víctimas de abusos domésticos y agresiones sexuales

The McNabb Center in Knoxville is seeing more people reaching out for help recently. They said numbers dipped last year due to victims feeling uncertain about community living during a pandemic.

Fleeing from home to find safer ground is something Bella Hope Shiloh knows all too well. As a domestic abuse victim, she said it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. 

"There was no forethought, planning, I didn't have a safety plan," she said.

Shiloh spent years experiencing abuse, and said leaving was scary and dangerous, but led to freedom.

She believes this new law will make a difference. 

"The more resources we have for victims, ultimately the more lives we're going to save," said Shiloh. "It can make a difference between whether she stays or whether she goes. And that in itself can make a difference in whether she lives or dies in a lot of situations."

Shelters and resource centers like McNabb Center have several options. 

"We do have an emergency domestic violence shelter, where we see people fleeing who just left a violent situation," said Director of Victim Services Catherine Oaks. 

Victims can stay in the emergency shelter for 45 days, which serves around 300 people year-round. 

Oaks said there's also transitional housing. "They can stay with us in apartments from six months to two years."

Services help women, women with children and male victims. 

"We're available and having that support is really critical for someone that's experiencing abuse," said Oaks. 

Shiloh said reaching out for help is an important first step. She encourages victims to call or visit in person, experts are trained to recognize the signs. "Advocates that are trained and can see that from the outside."

Under the new law, a victim will have to show proof of a restraining order or criminal charges to a landlord in order to terminate an existing lease.  

You can call McNabb Center's 24/7 crisis line at 865-637-8000 or find more information online here. You can reach the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee at 865-522-7273.