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The month of October (http://www.ncadv.org/takeaction/DomesticViolenceAwarenessMonth.php) was set aside to reflect upon domestic abuse and to work towards its eradication. In every community, large and small, there appears in its local newspapers the report of incidents involving assaults between would be lovers, maiming and murders among families. Some may say that we are a violent society in general. Maybe it is because of the prevalence of the internet and the instant information era in which we live that the incidents of violence seem to have exploded exponentially. How do we end this domestic violence which is endemic to our society? How to we begin the process of eradication?
Before the enactment Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209A in 1978 by the legislature, was there no such thing as domestic violence? Of course that is not true, but there was little recourse for a spouse or companion who had been threatened, struck, injured, or raped prior to 1978. If the offending party lived in the same home as the abused party, what recourse did the abused party have to cause the abuser to vacate the home prior to 1978?
The import of the enactment of the 209A restraining order law was to protect an individual, married or not, from a household member who is threatening to do harm, has done harm, and/or is instilling fear of impending future harm. The law was enacted to allow the District Courts and the Probate Courts in Massachusetts to accept a written request for relief from the abuse party and to have a hearing to determine if the restraining order should issue.
If the situation was an emergency, the party being abused could obtain the restraining order “ex parte”. This term essentially translates to mean that no notice is provided to the offending party in advance. The concern was that if the offending party had advance notice of a hearing, he/she would try to threaten or dissuade the victim from going to court. If the court finds that a restraining order should issue ex parte, the order would result in a 209A order to be served upon the offending party by the police in the town where the abuse occurred. The order would be no more than 10 days duration, at which time both parties would appear before the judge in whichever court in order for both sides to state what their version of the story was.
The 209A gives the judge the authority to order the offender to vacate the home, to stay away from the home or place of business where the victim resides or works, and to stop abuse. If there is concern for safety of the children of the relationship, the restraining order can also contain language that the offender/restrained party not contact the children as well. The judge has the authority to extend the restraining order out for one year. As a result of the Champagne (http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/429/429mass324.html) decision issued by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the judge has the authority in certain cases where abuse has been chronic to issue a permanent restraining order. In the event of a violation of the restraining, the violation is treated as a criminal offense and incarceration is likely to occur if the defendant violates the order.
We are finally recognizing that violence cannot be tolerated in our society, and the 209A was enacted to control the violence and protect victims. Prior to the enactment of the law in 1978, domestic disputes, particularly involving a husband and wife, were often treated informally. The police might come and have a talk with each party, perhaps recommending one of them find another place to stay that night. For more serious confrontations between house mates, criminal complaints could be issued for assault and battery, and the police could take one of the parties into custody. The bottom line was that this type of incident did not have a specific law to enforce to protect the victim and stop the violence. As a result, the abuse could become chronic.
There are problems with 209A’s that people in law enforcement, judges and lawyers know about. Nevertheless, many individuals, male as well as female, endure domestic violence in their relationships and do not make a complaint to the police or in the courts. In other instances, the victim might obtain the restraining order but never seek to enforce it or allow it to lapse. I often tell clients that the orders that the court makes are only as good as the paper upon which they are written unless the victim is prepared to demand enforcement. It is an emotionally difficult process, and takes courage to stand up to an abuser.
That is the message that I want to convey. Domestic abuse is a terrible symptom of a violent society. It existed before 1978, as it does today, notwithstanding the advances that our society has made. We should all be able to live freely from the threat or reality of verbal, financial, physical, and sexual abuse. The answer is that we do not tolerate it for each other, that we do not tolerate it for ourselves, and do not tolerate it for our children. Ideally we will reach a point in our civilization where we will be as emotionally developed to not need these resources. If you or someone you know needs help:
• DOVE Hotline: 888-314-3683
• DOVE (http://www.doveinc.info/)
• Jane Doe, Inc (http://www.janedoe.org/)
• Shelters for those Fleeing Domestic Abuse (http://www.mahomeless.org/get-help/survivors-of-domestic-violence)
• National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – Get Help (http://www.ncadv.org/protectyourself/GettingHelp.php)
The month of October, 2013 has passed. I say let every month be domestic violence awareness month.