The Cape & Islands District Attorney’s Office Domestic Violence Unit is committed to the aggressive prosecution of misdemeanor and felony domestic violence cases. With the help of our experienced victim/witness personnel all victims of domestic abuse received encouragement and support throughout the process with the intention of increasing positive and judicious dispositions. We also work to impact public policy, increase public awareness and develop community-based response to domestic violence. Crimes of this nature are not a private family matter nor are they simply the result of alcohol or drugs. Domestic violence is most often learned criminal behavior which society must condemn. Through early intervention of community-based programs, law enforcement and the criminal justice system, domestic violence can be reduced.
Until recently, domestic violence was viewed as a private family matter and law enforcement officers often than played the role of “mediator or peacemaker”. Police were trained to avoid making arrests except in the most serious cases. The courts shared the view that these cases did not belong in the criminal courtroom and were best handled through mediation, marriage counseling or civil proceedings. These traditional approaches left the victims, children and public unprotected from the devastating consequences of domestic violence.
Research demonstrates that without early and effective intervention, domestic violence increases in both frequency and severity. To end violence within the family a coordinated community response is required. Each part of the community has a role to play: the criminal justice system, mental/medical health personnel, educators, clergy, social activists, the media, the business community, etc..
Massachusetts General Laws chapter 209A, entitled “Abuse Prevention”, provides a statutory mechanism by which victims of family, household or substantive dating violence can enlist the aid of the state to prevent further abuse. Chapter 209A represents the legislative response to the troubling social problem of family and household abuse in the Commonwealth by providing civil restraining orders, arrest protocols and criminal law enforcement. Recently, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law an Act Relative to Domestic Violence, Chapter 260 of the Acts of 2014. This new legislation has reformed many of our current laws regarding domestic violence.
For the past 15 years the Cape & Islands District Attorney’s Office has been involved in developing appropriate responses to domestic violence. The policies of the District Attorney are aimed at reducing domestic violence on the Cape & Islands by increasing the number of positive dispositions that include probation, the batterer’s program and incarceration. The position of the District Attorney is that aggressive prosecution will ultimately reduce the number of sexual assaults, aggravated assaults and homicides that are presently attributed to the escalating cycles of domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Unit (DV) was created in July 1992 by the District Attorney. The DV unit has two specially trained prosecutors and three victim/witness advocates. In addition, the unit has utilized clinical legal interns and victim/witness volunteers. The Chief of the DV unit prosecutes all Superior Court cases while the other trained members of the unit are responsible for the more serious cases pending in the Barnstable District Court. Cases in other four District Courts in this jurisdiction are prosecuted by seasoned Assistant District Attorneys assigned there under the direct supervision of the Chief of the DV Unit. The DV Unit also provides ongoing training to the police departments located on the Cape and the Islands.
Definitions of Domestic Violence
Generally, domestic violence cases involve spouses, former spouses or those involved in a dating relationship. Domestic Violence is “the abuse of a family or household member, as defined in section 1 of chapter 209A”. Massachusetts General Laws chapter 209A, Section 1 defines a family or household member as: persons who:
- are or were married to one another;
- are or were residing together in the same household;
- are or were related by blood or marriage;
- having a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together; or
- are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship, which shall be adjudged by district, probate or Boston municipal courts consideration of the following factors:
- the length of time of the relationship;
- the type of relationship;
- the frequency of interaction between the parties; and
- if the relationship has been terminated by either person, the length of time elapsed since the termination of the relationship.
Domestic violence can take place in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Domestic violence can take a number of forms including physical, emotional, verbal, economic and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape or violent physical abuse that results in disfigurement or death. The Power and Control Wheel developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project is a particularly helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors used by batterers to establish and maintain control over their partners. Very often one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of other types of abuse, less easily identified, but firmly showing a pattern of intimidation and control.
Goals of the Prosecution
Domestic violence is treated as a serious crime and prosecuted fully to avoid continuation and escalation of the violence. Our goals are:
- To stop the violence
- To protect the victim, children and other family members
- To provide information and services to aid in that protection
- To hold the offender accountable and deter future violence
- To manage ongoing threats posed by the offender
- To protect the public
- To uphold the law and legislative intent, which identifies domestic violence as serious criminal conduct
Who is the Offender?
Domestic violence offenders come from all ethnic, economic and social categories. They do not fit into a specific “personality profile”. Their primary characteristic is that they batter their intimate partner as a means of maintaining power and control.
Below is a list of behaviors that are seen in people who beat their partners; the last four signs listed are battering, but many victims do not realize that this is the beginning of physical abuse. If a person has several of the other behaviors (three or more) there is a strong potential for physical violence – the more signs a person has, the more likely the person may be a batterer.
- Controlling behavior
- Quick involvement in or pressure to commit to the relationship
- Unrealistic expectations
- Isolation/cutting the person off from all support and resources
- Blames others for their problems
- Blames others for their feelings
- Cruelty to animals or children
- “Playful” use of force during sexual intercourse
- Verbal abuse
- Rigid sex roles
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality/ sudden mood changes
- Past battering
- Threats of violence
- Breaking or striking objects
- Any force during an argument
Without sanctions the batterers will continue to use violence as a means of getting the victims to “behave” in a manner proscribed by the batterer. Violence becomes the abuser’s method of choice to achieve control.
An abuser must first assume responsibility for their violence before it can be stopped. Only then can a plan be developed for the change in behavior. The batterer will not take responsibility for their violence because the blame always lies with the victim or someone else for instigating the abusers actions.
Who is the Victim?
The victim, like offenders, come from all ethnic, economic and social backgrounds. They do not fit into one specific “personality profile”. Their common characteristic is that they are victims of abuse by their partners. Approximately 97 % of cases presented to the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office involve male defendants and female victims. Contrary to popular mythology, many battered women are problem solvers and help seekers, as evidenced by the numerous attempts they may have made in the past to stop the violence or sever their relationship with the abuser.
A victim of domestic violence who calls the police has the same goal as the officer responding to the call, the prosecutor and the court: to stop the violence. While the court can attempt to stop the violence in the long run through it’s sentencing power and ability to issue civil protective orders, the victim’s focus will most likely be on the short term and aimed at stopping the immediate threat, even if it’s just temporary. Oftentimes that can involve agreeing with the offender’s denial and minimization of the violence in public, accepting promises that it will never happen again, requesting that charges be dropped, requesting the court terminate any protective orders, or not showing up to court hearings.
The criminal justice system will be most effective if it anticipates concerns the victim may have regarding testifying against the defendant and provide the support that is necessary to address, not only their short term concerns, but their long term needs as well.
The reasons given by victims of domestic violence who are initially reluctant to testify are often the same as those given by victims of other types of violent crimes. These include:
- Fear of retaliation by the defendant
- Unwillingness to face the offender in the courtroom
- Feelings of shame or guilt that their own behavior may have caused the crime in some way or that the court may perceive the victim’s behavior as causative.
- Desire to put the whole incident behind them and move on
- Denial, ambivalence, withdrawal and emotional swings as a result of being a victim of severe trauma.
The above reasons are often heightened for victims of domestic violence for the following reasons:
- The defendant may be living with the victim and be familiar with her daily routine. They may have access to her house, work or the homes of relatives or friends. The defendant may also have access to the victim and children through court ordered visitation. The existence of an intimate relationship between the defendant and the victim in these cases creates a unique vulnerability resulting from the defendant’s knowledge of details about the victim’s life not found in cases where the defendant and victim are strangers.
- The victim may have nowhere to hide from the defendant. Moving from the home sometimes means becoming hunted and/or homeless. The victim may decide that life with the batterer is better than the unknown.
- The victim’s past efforts to leave the perpetrator or to seek protection from the justice system have resulted in further violence. The victim has learned that the defendant will follow through with his threats and retaliate if she is to leave or seek help from the justice system. Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic abuse.
- The victim and defendant have children together and she may believe his threats to kidnap the children if she testifies against him. This is particularly true if the defendant is from another country or state and has threatened to take the children “home” with him.
- A victim may not understand how the criminal justice system will respond to the violence and may even be unaware that domestic violence is a crime. Her only source of information may be from the defendant. The victim and/or children may be dependent on the defendant for economic support, thus, may have conflicting feelings about the possibility that criminal justice intervention may result in incarceration of the defendant and therefore loss of support. A clear explanation of the realities of the possible sentences and how prosecution can deter future acts of violence will alleviate some of the anxiety about testifying. Appropriate referrals can ease the financial pressure.
- The victim may want to believe the defendant’s promises that the physical abuse will never happen again. In order for the batterer to change his behavior, however, he has to acknowledge that the violence is his responsibility and he has to be willing to seek help from a domestic violence intervention program. The victim needs to be assured that her behavior will not change the defendant’s behavior. The defendant, and only the defendant, is responsible for his violence. Understanding this will help the victim separate her hope that he will stop the abuse from the reality of what is required for him to change.
- The victim’s cultural or religious community, or family that have previously provided protection from abuse may be threatening to withdraw their support and protection if the victim testifies. Support networks may also share the erroneous belief that domestic violence is a private family affair that is best worked out solely between the victim and the batterer.
- In cases where the victim is an immigrant or refugee, the defendant may be threatening to have her deported if she testifies. Even when the victim’s immigration status is not dependent on the defendant’s petitioning for legal status, the victim may still believe his threats. Immigrant and refugee battered women may not be familiar with the legal system in this country and therefore may not understand that domestic violence is a crime. They may not know that there are legal protections available here that may not exist in their country.
- The victim may believe that the intervention of the criminal justice system will not be effective in stopping the violence or in protecting the victim and children. This belief may be the result of past experiences where the system failed to prevent the violence or it may be based on the defendant’s ability to convince the victim that nothing will stop him. A domestic violence victim knows that law enforcement cannot provide constant protection. She knows that even if the defendant is convicted and incarcerated he will someday be released and may find her, her children or her family.