New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry Bill Moves Forward

New Jersey is a step closer to creating the United States’ first statewide Internet registry for domestic violence offenders. The state’s Assembly Women and Children Committee June 18 approved New Jersey Assembly Bill A-2539, also known as Misty’s Law. The registry would be similar to the sex offender registry. Individuals would be able to research potential partners and learn about any history of domestic violence. It would also allow survivors of domestic violence to track their abuser’s location.

“A few clicks of the mouse could help prevent someone from falling into an abusive relationship,” Democratic Assemblywoman Carmelo G. Garcia said in a press release on PolitickerNJ.com. “This could prove an invaluable tool, especially given how hard it often is for victims to extricate themselves from this type of relationship.”

The law would allow any member of the public to view records that include: the defendant’s name and any aliases; any aggravated assault offense involving domestic violence for which the defendant was convicted; the date and location of disposition; a brief description of any such offense, a general description of the defendant’s modus operandi; the defendant’s age, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair, eye color and any distinguishing scars or tattoos; a photograph of the defendant and the date on which the photograph was entered into the registry; the make, model, color, year and license plate number of any vehicle operated by the defendant; and the street address, zip code, municipality and county in which the defendant resides.

Misty Ramos

Misty Ramos was murdered by her boyfriend in 2012.

The bill is named after Misty Ramos. She was strangled to death in June 2012 by her former boyfriend, Noel Irizarry, at her home. Irizarry was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her death. Misty Ramos’ brother, Kell Ramos is president of  Domestic Violence Action Group USA, which supports the bill. After Izarry’s arrest, Ramos learned that his slain sister’s boyfriend spent 10 years in prison for slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend, NJ.com reported. Ramos is a documentary maker working on a film about the issue.

The group will focus on men, Ramos told NJ.com. “We need men to be part of the solution,” Ramos told the news outlet. “Focusing on the woman is needed, but what happens to the next generation? The same cycle repeats itself. There’s going to be more men doing the same thing. How do you stop that? Other men have to hold men accountable to their actions.”

 

Ruling Fails To Hold Offender Accountable For Facebook Threats

elonsisAdvocates for victims of domestic violence are disappointed the Supreme Court ruled to throw out the conviction of Anthony Elonis, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who made chilling and vivid threats on Facebook to harm his estranged wife and others.

The Supreme Court on June 1 said it was not enough that an ordinary person would find Elonis’ rap-style social media posts threatening. “The narrow opinion said it was not necessary to address whether the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech protected Elonis’ Facebook statements, the Washington Post wrote. “The opinion also declined to take a position on whether it would be enough for a conviction to show that a defendant had been reckless in making inflammatory statements.”

The justices heard the case of Elonis vs. United States on December 1, 2014. Elonis is challenging a 44-month prison sentence he served for Facebook that appeared to threaten his wife with violence. Even after a restraining order, Elonis continued to post. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 44 months in prison.

He claimed the posts were meant as jokes and are protected under the First Amendment. Further, he contends that under the federal threat statute, the jury must find that he intended his Facebook posts to be threatening. (The ruling did not address the First Amendment question.)

His wife clearly considered his posts threatening. “I felt like I was being stalked,” she testified. “I felt extremely afraid for mine and my children’s and my family’s lives.”

The National Network to End Domestic Violence criticized the ruling, saying, “We believe a reasonable person standard is appropriate for conviction of threatening under the statute at issue.”

The organization noted that Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “[t]hreats of violence and intimidation are among the most favored weapons of domestic abusers, and the rise of social media has only made those tactics more commonplace.”

But advocates for victims of domestic violence worry the ruling will make it difficult for victims to find protection from online threats.

“The Internet is the crime scene of the 21st century,” Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, told the Washington Post. “The laws governing social media require swift interpretation to keep pace with the ever-advancing criminal activity in this space.”

It’s Outrageous That Ray Rice’s Domestic Violence Charges Dropped

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife Janay during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife Janay during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team’s practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Remember your outrage at news that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocked his fiancée unconscious? Remember being outraged that the NFL commissioner suspended Rice for just two games before he (supposedly only then) saw the video of the violent incident and indefinitely suspended Rice? Prepare to be outraged again: A New Jersey judge last week dismissed domestic violence charges Rice because he had completed the terms of his pretrial intervention.

Under terms of the program, Rice paid $125 in fines and received anger management counseling, AP reported. The intervention program is seen as a key tool as the state tries to keep low-level suspects out of jail, the news outlet wrote. Only 70 of the more than 15,000 domestic violence assault cases adjudicated from 2010 to 2013 in New Jersey’s Superior Court were admitted into the pretrial intervention program, the AP reported. According to New Jersey guidelines, offenders who commit violent crimes should “generally be rejected” from the program.

Cue the outrage.

Why is Rice considered a low-level suspect? The incident made public was clearly violent, no matter how many times Rice and his lawyer call it “a misunderstanding.” When high-profile celebrities and athletes are not held accountable, it sends a message that they are above the law. Authorities here missed a chance to show their intolerance for domestic violence.

The outcome of the Rice case, unfortunately, is all too common. Of the 15,029 people charged in New Jersey with assault in domestic violence cases from 2010 to 2013, 8,203 had their cases dismissed or downgraded to a lower court, according to the data provided by the state judiciary, AP reported. Nearly 3,100 pleaded guilty, 13 were found guilty at trial and nine were found not guilty.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) called the intervention program for Rice inappropriate. “Given the severity of Mr. Rice’s violence and the charges filed against him, it is concerning that this program was ever presented, and accepted as an option,” the statement said.

“This is an example of why victims don’t come forward, why they do not feel safe, and why we still can’t trust systems to hold perpetrators accountable,” NCADV Executive Director Ruth Glenn said in a statement.

Status of Women in the States Report Presents Data on Domestic Violence

iThis week we’re cheering the important work of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Since 1996, the organization has collected data, crunched the numbers and presented valuable reports via its Status of Women in the States project. The organization has earned a solid reputation as a credible and valuable resource. Its data is often cited in the media on issues including poverty, pay equity, reproductive justice and health – issues often connected with domestic violence.

This spring, IWPR has published updated data and trend analysis on women’s economic, social, and political progress in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States overall. The reports include: Employment & Earnings, Poverty & Opportunity, Work & Family, Violence & Safety, Reproductive Rights, Health & Well-Being, and Political Participation. Each includes interactive maps that highlight the issue and well-documented data.

Earlier this month the organization released its report on violence and safety, which includes a section on intimate partner violence. The report echoes a concern of Big Mountain Data. “Quantitative data on these issues are limited, especially at the state level,” it notes. It also notes the many state laws address domestic violence offenders but many “may also fall short of providing the full range of protections that women need.”

The 43-page is full of information worthy of a close read. (It also includes troubling data on stalking, teen violence dating, campus sexual assault and trafficking.) Highlights include:

  • In 2012, 924 women in the United States were killed by an intimate partner.
  • 19% of women in the United States are raped at some time in their lives, and 43.9% experience other forms of sexual violence.
  • Multiracial and Native American women are more likely to experience rape and sexual violence than other groups of women.
  • Tactics of abusers may include not only sexual abuse or rape, but also reproductive or sexual coercion.
  • Domestic and sexual violence puts women and girls at higher risk of sexually transmitted disease.
  • Anti-violence programs and services for victims are unavailable to many.
  • Courts often do not take allegations of domestic abuse into account in child custody cases

The report underscores the need for efforts that go beyond “awareness,” focus on the root causes of domestic violence and hold offenders accountable. Despite progress, the report notes, “threats to women’s safety continue to profoundly affect their economic security, health, civic engagement, and overall well-being.”

 

 

 

Mayweather Hype Highlights Lack Of Accountability For Abusers

Beyond the high-stakes hype for the recent Floyd Mayweather/ Manny Pacquiao boxing match, another conversation was taking place. If you watch the fight, wrote Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi, “You are putting money into the pocket of Mayweather — a man who is one of the most despicable domestic abusers in the history of sports.”

mMayweather’s record is well documented: He’s been accused of assaulting five women in at least seven different incidents. In 2012, Mayweather was sentenced to three months in jail for attacking his former girlfriend, ; two of their children witnessed the assault.

“He grabbed me by the hair and threw me on the ground and started punching me on my head with his fist and twisting my arm back and telling me he is going to kill me and the person that I am with,” she said in a police report USA Today published last year.

Mayweather denies he hurt Harris. Where’s the proof? he asks.

Before the Mayweather/Pacquiao match, Grantland published an artful piece that attempted to explain  Mayweather’s mix of athletic prowess and apparent violence against women. “The more I watched Mayweather fight, and the more I read about his allegedly violent acts outside the ring, the more I began to see it as all of one piece,” Louisa Thomas wrote. “The circus that follows him. The bag filled with cash and gambling slips. The entourage. The houses and the women installed in them, the diamond rings as collars. The way he takes the measure of a situation in the ring, determining when it’s safe to punch and when to duck.”

Ahead of the fight, advocates took to social media to point out the contradiction of Mayweather benefiting from the match. Hashtags #MoneyWhereMyMouthIs, #BoycottMayweather and #nomaypac and urged people to donate the $99.99 cost of the pay-per-view fight to an anti-domestic violence organization. (Mayweather took home $130 million for his victory.)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported an 80 percent increase in the number of donations the week before the fight. “People are frustrated that someone of Mayweather’s stature gets a pass,” said Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Mayweather is making millions off a fight when we are struggling to provide assistance to victims and survivors of domestic violence.”

Raising money to help survivors is great. Holding abusers accountable, no matter how rich and famous, would be even better.

Huge Percentage of Cases Never Prosecuted, Pulitzer Report Notes

abused womanOne story in the Pulitzer-Prize winning series about domestic violence recounts some of the reasons offenders are not held accountable for their crimes. “Cases against domestic abusers fall apart on a regular basis, allowing them to escape punishment and continue to mistreat the women in their lives — at times, with deadly results,” the reporters write in Part Five: “Cases fall apart, abusers go free.”

Advocates will likely be familiar with the examples The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, found. In one case, the male perpetrator posts bail within hours of being charged with criminal domestic violence. “Then the charge goes away entirely after his girlfriend has second thoughts about testifying,” the story says.

Contributing to the problem are the perennial challenges of overcrowded court dockets, poorly trained law enforcement, and victims “too scared to testify against the men who beat them.” Most troubling in South Carolina was “a domestic violence law that treats first-time offenders about the same as shoplifters and litterbugs.”

The high number of cases dismissed is also troubling. The newspaper found that about six in 10 domestic violence cases in Charleston and North Charleston municipal courts between 2009 and 2013 were dismissed or dropped by prosecutors. The number of dismissed cases remains high even after then-Attorney General Charlie Condon in 2001 ordered prosecutors to pursue convictions even when victims refused to cooperate.

“Our biggest issue is the lack of cooperation from victims,” 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the paper.

Prosecuting a case without a victim is difficult. The strongest witness is often the victim. As the story put it: “To make a case stick, it usually comes down to the woman testifying against her man.”  South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson encourages prosecutors to pursue cases even when victims are hesitant. His words to victims point to the broad impact of domestic violence. “This is not your cross to bear,” the paper reported him as saying. “This is my burden. … He has committed a crime against the state.”

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Series On Domestic Violence Sets Precedent For Transparency

sc

The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, this week was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service for “Till Death Do Us Part.” The five-part series published in August 2014 spurred reform to domestic violence laws for the first time in at least a decade. South Carolina “for more than 15 years was among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men,” the paper reported in the introduction to its multimedia project. “The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.”

Journalists consider winning a Pulitzer akin to winning an Olympic medal. The Post and Courier’s ambitious project won journalism’s gold medal with “Till Death Do Us Part.” The Pulitzer jury called it “a riveting series that probed why South Carolina is among the deadliest states in the union for women and put the issue of what to do about it on the state’s agenda.”

The story “revealed numerous failings, including limited police training, inadequate laws, a lack of punishment, insufficient education for judges, a dearth of support for victims and traditional beliefs about the sanctity of marriage that keep victims locked in the cycle of abuse,” the paper said. They called this “a corrosive stew” that made the state one of the deadliest states in the nation for women.

The series is a well-written, well-produced project about a perennial problem. It deserves journalism’s highest honor for shining light on the problems and “shaming” officials to make changes. Six months after the series was published, state lawmakers, prosecutors and police pledged “this is the year we finally pass a comprehensive bill” on domestic violence. Some parts of the proposed laws have stalled, but the paper continues to aggressively cover developments.

Big Mountain Data cheers this work. We’re especially pleased with the precedent the paper set by partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting and compiling a database of those killed at the hands of intimate partners. They used police reports, court records, criminal rap sheets and other documents to plot where each killing took place. Then they looked for trends. In addition, they studied conviction rates and plea deals, which the paper’s executive editor pointed out in his prize application letter, the state judicial system does not track.

The paper set a valuable precedent in linking online to every fact and statistic they reported. Access to records varies by municipalities. But this project highlights the value of making criminal records public.

Texas Judge Meets With Offenders In Unusual Program

State District Judge Rick Magnis congratulates a graduate of his Felony Domestic Violence Court Program. Photo by Smiley N. Pool/Staff Photographer, Dallas Morning News

State District Judge Rick Magnis congratulates a graduate of his Felony Domestic Violence Court Program. Photo by Smiley N. Pool/Staff Photographer, Dallas Morning News

In February, three high-risk offenders in Texas graduated from a yearlong program that included GPS monitoring, classes to prevent abuse, and regular meetings with a judge. Despite limited evidence of the success of batterer intervention programs, the initial success of the Texas program provides a potential model for other communities.

State District Judge Rick Magnis launched the program in January 2014, and about 36 offenders who “showed signs of deadly behavior, such as strangulation or stalking” have participated, the Dallas Morning News reported. It’s thought to be the only program of its kind in Texas.

Magnis described his role as expanding beyond disciplinarian and including an interest in the men’s lives. “I want to have a relationship with them because I think some of them want to and sincerely can change, and I want them to know I’m here,” Magnis told the Dallas Morning News. But, he added, “I want them to know if they hurt someone, they’re going away.”

The judge praised the three men for sticking with the program and staying out of trouble. The men will have to report to Magnis quarterly for the next year. They will also meet regularly with a probation officer. The judge ordered their names withheld to protect their identities as an effort to allow them to keep jobs and avoid violence. (We wrote about identifying offenders on April 2, and we’ll write more about the issue in future posts.)

Magnis conceded the program was not easy – or fun. “But I do want all three of you to stay out of the penitentiary, and I do want people you’re with to feel nurtured and loved, and not hurt,” he told the paper.

The graduates received medallions and certificates. “It wasn’t easy, but this is a reward,” one graduate told the paper. “I feel like we’ve all become better men for it.”

Batterers’ Intervention Programs Address Root Cause of Domestic Violence

bangorDespite claims that batterers’ intervention programs (BIP) fail to change offenders’ attitudes toward women or domestic violence, the facilitator of a long-running program in Bangor, Maine, remains convinced they can make a difference.

Kathryn Maietta and her husband facilitate the only batterers’ intervention in their county. She thinks it’s a mistake that domestic violence offenders in her community must receive psychological counseling and anger management courses, but are not required to attend a BIP. That failure means offenders do not learn how to change their behavior, according to a Bangor Daily News story. (The writer spent several months observing Maietta’s program. It’s a deep dive and worth a read.)

Although the National Institute of Justice says such programs have “a modest affect,” the article cites a 2004 paper that shows that offenders who attend a BIP are less likely to offend. Retired Bates College psychology professor Robert Moyer reviewed 300 studies that compared re-offense rates of those who completed batterers’ intervention programs with the rates of program dropouts. “… dropouts are more than twice as likely to re-offend as completers are,” Moyer wrote.

The Maine program follows the model of Emerge, created in 1977 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among Emerge’s goals for offenders are to immediately stop physical abuse and intimidation, understand the harm this behavior has caused; and develop an understanding of how you have benefited from your behavior in the past and how you can benefit from changing your behavior now

Skeptics of BIPs cite their ineffectiveness, lack of availability, and cost. But Maietta, who runs the program in Maine, cites the misperception of domestic violence as an anger management problem as a major barrier to faith in BIPs. “Domestic abuse,” she told the Bangor paper, “is about power and control.” Understanding that core truth could change the way communities respond to offenders.

Massachusetts Law Shields Domestic Violence Offenders

A Massachusetts legislator hopes to reverse a state law that says police logs and arrest reports on domestic violence cases are not public records. That policy is part of the state’s comprehensive domestic violence law, signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in August.

The law establishes a new crime of first-offense domestic assault; imposes delays in setting bail in domestic violence cases; makes strangulation a felony; allows employment leave for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking; and requires new training for police, court personnel, judges and prosecutors,

Removing domestic violence information from police logs and reports doesn’t keep victims safe and may help abusers avoid public sshadow-mancrutiny, state Rep. Josh S. Cutler told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

“We’re all in favor of protecting the victims,” he said. “I don’t think we should be in the business of protecting the perpetrators.” Concealing perpetrators’ identities puts domestic violence “back in the shadows, when this is something that needs to be in the light of day,” he said.

Cutler filed a bill in January that would remove the confidentiality requirement for police logs. Confidentiality would be maintained for more in-depth police reports under his bills.

Domestic violence survivors’ advocates said that keeping the police information out of the public eye gives victims more safety, the Telegram & Gazette reported. “Victims are contacting police to stop the violence. They’re not necessarily contacting police to share their story publicly,” Karen Riley-McNary, director of community intervention for domestic violence services at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts, told the publication.

The new law makes it easier for some victims to report abuse, another service provider said.

Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said making the perpetrator’s name public “serves an important public safety purpose. It provides notice to the public about crime that has occurred in their community and their neighborhood.”

Cutler’s proposal has support from Norfolk County district attorney and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.