When considering how I think domestic violence can best be lessened I look to the law. I was a dispatcher for a police department in Connecticut, both pre and post domestic violence legislation. DV law has made a significant impact in decreasing intimate partner violence, educating us all on what is acceptable behavior in a relationship. Along those lines teaching our sons and daughters how to treat others, starts in the home and school, on the playground, ball field, and any place people gather. Mental health plays a more significant role than I would have thought. Verbal abuse, physical abuse and a sort of water torture of threatening actions goes on in too many homes. Alcohol and drug abuse are major factors too.
Over the past twenty-two months I have assisted both women and men victims of domestic violence, file for Restraining Orders. I don’t work with the victims whose incident ended in an arrest, those are handled by the Advocates working for the DA’s office. I work with walk-ins, in one of Massachusetts’ busiest courts. The law pertaining to obtaining an RO is fairly clear and when people fall out of those parameters, Harassment Orders can be an option. But HOs are a mine field of problems and while created to address rape by a superior officer or in a work place, harassment complaints have become the dumping ground for everything else, from homophobic neighbors, to stalking, threatening with three incidents of the situation. Because of their complexity, HOs often end up as a two party hearing before being granted.
As an advocate and court volunteer my opinion, is mine alone, but comes from over four decades of observation, consideration, and occasional conversation with those who work in the field. I would like to see both laws changed and in the following ways.
Restraining Orders for all the good they do are not weapon proof, nor do they cover people who cohabitate, but are not in an intimate relationship; are dating, related by blood or marriage, or have a child(ren) in common. The occasions are rare, but do exist where someone needs a RO, but does not fall under these relationships.
Harassment Orders need to be separated into two different laws. One that addresses neighbor disputes and one that harkens back to the original intent of sexual assault. Stalking in and of itself is a very creepy, disturbing act. and three incidents are two too many.
For those who are the defendants in these cases, men or women, more sentencing needs to be toward Batterer’s Intervention. A forty week program, where the participants need to pay to attend, and where probation depends on their participation and attendance. Anger management isn’t the same.
This is one prong of help for victims, a small step toward Eliminating Domestic Violence, but this is for one of fifty states. One of fifty states in a country that respects woman more than too large a portion of the rest of the world.
Education, laws that protect, batterer’s programs, counseling, and for the few who need them, safe, comfortable shelters.
Susan A. James Clark
Director Intimate Partner Violence Project, Inc.