Community Comes Together to Support Innovative Massachusetts Law Addressing Domestic Violence

DeleoElected officials are beginning to understand the need for systemic change regarding domestic/intimate partner violence (IPV).  In 2014, The Massachusetts Legislature passed SB 2334.

“I firmly believe that comprehensive action – examining existing loopholes, elevating criminal penalties and prioritizing prevention – is the only strategy that will result in systemic change.” – Speaker of the House Robert Deleo

The law is comprehensive and not without detractors, yet it addresses some of the more egregious remnants of lax laws and takes a bold step forward.  The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, the state coalition against domestic violence Jane Doe, Inc.,  and domestic violence advocates throughout the state applaud the comprehensive legislation.  Key provisions that will go into effect in 2015 include:

  • Delaying bail for domestic violence offenders by six hours
  • Levying charges and heightened punishment for strangulation and suffocation incidents
  • Establishing Fatality Review Teams
  • Expanded training for law enforcement and judges
  • Allowing employee leave time for victims

The law will also get rid of “accord and satisfaction” agreements.   Accord and satisfaction are out-of-court settlements used to resolve charges involving physical violence.  Abusers tend to intimidate victims by pressuring them to accept this option.

The specific strangulation and suffocation charges are ground-breaking and necessary.  According to the Journal of Emergency Medicine,  23% to 68% of female domestic violence victims experienced at least one strangulation-related incident from their abusive male partner during their lifetime.  Research also bears out what victims, legal practitioners, and medical personnel already know – strangulation is one of the most potentially lethal forms of intimate partner abuse.  Currently, charges run the gamut from misdemeanor simple assault to the impossible to prove attempted murder.  A 2008 Journal of Emergency Medicine study found that a woman who experiences nonlethal strangulation — whether by someone’s hands or by ligature or other means — is seven times more likely to be the object of a murder attempt by her assailant.  It also found that 43 percent of women killed in domestic violence attacks, and 45 percent of attempted-murder victims, had been strangled by a partner in the previous year.

This new law is a step in the right direction and demands specific collaborative efforts by employers, schools and civil courts.   Injury prevention experts from the Centers for Disease Control, community health departments, academic research  and the domestic violence field support the need for a community response.

Other violence prevention initiatives requiring community involvement include offender focus intervention, GPS monitoring, bystander training, and Coaching Boys Into Men.

 

 

 

A New Tool from Canada Seeks to Reduce Domestic Violence Offenses in Maine

Police officers in Maine are seeking to reduce domestic violence offenses in the new year with a tool from Canada named ODARA, the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment.

The ODARA is a validated checklist of factors that help authorities assess  “the likelihood of whether someone who has previously assaulted a romantic partner will do so again in the future.”

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Photo: Senior Constable Fiona Foxall, Wellington Forensic Imagery

The ODARA assessment was chosen to help reduce domestic violence offenses after Maine passed a law in 2012 that mandated “the use of a standardized, evidence-based risk assessment tool for domestic violence offenders.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explained the law was originally passed as part of an effort to reduce homicides in the state. Roughly 50 percent of homicides in Maine are domestic violence related. In 2014, there were 20 homicides reported in Maine. 13 of the 20 were categorized as domestic violence related. Out of the 13, seven were children under 13. A domestic violence case is reported every 94 minutes.

According to its website, the ODARA “is the first empirically tested and validated domestic violence risk assessment tool to assess the risk of future domestic assault, as well as the frequency and severity of future assaults.”  The ODARA is essentially a scorecard with 13 questions that consider “prior history of domestic abuse, threats to harm or kill a victim, a victim’s concern of future assault, the presence of children and whether there are indications the abuser is using drugs or alcohol.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explains the factors considered are “found to be the strongest predictors of domestic violence recidivism.”

An offender can receive a score anywhere from a 0-13. The higher the score, the more likely the repeat offense. If an offender scores a seven or higher, they are 14 times more likely to reoffend.

Maine is the first state in the U.S. to use the ODARA and will decide whether or not they will offer electronic monitoring of the offender based on the score. District Attorney Maeghan Maloney explains “What I ask the court for, in order to keep the victims safe, is either a bail amount to hold the defendant in jail or the use of an electronic monitor.”

The ODARA sounds like a promising tool in the fight against domestic violence. We are starting off 2015 in the right direction!

Maine Pilots Electronic Monitoring for Domestic Violence Offenders

In October, Maine authorized a pilot program in Somerset County that electronically monitors domestic violence offenders. The jury is still out on the program’s success, but all counties in Maine have already been invited to submit proposals for their own pilot projects to begin next year.

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Maine’s Somerset County commissioners approved use of a Blutag — a one-piece GPS monitoring device for tracking the movement of people charged with domestic violence crimes.

Alongside electronic monitoring, the state also approved the “development of risk assessment protocols and domestic violence response teams to evaluate individual assault cases.” The risk assessment being used, known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, helps determine the level of threat an offender poses to a victim. Depending on the level, the offender receives an ankle bracelet monitor.

In the Somerset County pilot program, a $28,000 ankle bracelet monitor is given to repeat domestic violence offenders before trial , when Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says the “chances of a repeat offense are highest.”

This program is a potential game changer. In 2011, a domestic violence offender in Somerset County awaiting for his court day drove to the home of his wife and two children and committed homicide before fatally shooting himself. The victims’ relatives believe electronic monitoring could have saved their family members’ lives. Maloney agrees, “If we had known where he was at all times, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

In addition to saving lives, the program also saves money. In a country where prison overcrowding has become an epidemic, electronic monitoring can help offset this issue when used as an alternative to bail and incarceration. Maloney explains, “Instead of the bail being set at $10,000, the request is, instead, X amount of money for electronic monitoring, it becomes a reasonable request that’s not cost prohibitive for the defendant – in fact it’s less than what the bail amount is.” Maloney already has a case of a domestic violence offender that was given a bracelet rather than posting bail. The offender’s movements are tracked by a Texas firm for the low cost of $7 per day, a fraction of the cost of a prisoner awaiting trial in the county jail.

According to the National Council on State Legislatures (NCSL), there are 23 states either using GPS monitoring, or in the process of obtaining GPS monitoring for Domestic Violence.