Until recently, domestic violence was viewed as a private family matter. The response of the criminal justice system reflected this view. Police were trained to mediate and abate family "disputes," and to avoid making arrests except in the most serious cases. Prosecutors saw only the most serious violence cases because of the difficulties presented by these cases, and the belief that they would have little success with the prosecution. 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 victim, the children and the 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 and civil justice systems, 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 dating violence can enlist the aid of the state to prevent further abuse and avoid the extreme act of abuse. Chapter 209A represents a legislative response to the troubling social problem of family and household abuse in the Commonwealth by providing for civil restraining orders, arrest protocols and criminal enforcement.

For the past fifteen years, the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office has been involved in developing appropriate responses to domestic violence. The purpose of the District Attorney's protocol is to formally state the office policy and practice in handling domestic violence cases. The policies of the District Attorney are aimed at reducing domestic violence in the Cape and Islands District by increasing the number of positive dispositions in domestic violence prosecution through probation, including batterer's intervention programs and incarceration. It is the position of the District Attorney that the aggressive prosecution of misdemeanor domestic violence cases will ultimately reduce the significant number of homicides, sexual and other aggravated assaults, and related felonies that are presently attributed to 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 assistants. In addition, the unit has utilized clinical legal interns and victim witness volunteers. The Director of the DV Unit prosecutes all Superior Court felonies and appeals. The other specially trained Assistant District Attorney is responsible for the more serious domestic violence cases pending in the Barnstable District Court. Cases in the other District Courts are prosecuted by the Assistant District Attorney assigned to that court under the direct supervision of the Director of the Domestic Violence Unit. The Director is also responsible for training the office staff. The Director ultimately screens all DV cases for indictment.  

All cases should be vertically prosecuted. Vertical prosecution refers to the assignment of the same Assistant District Attorney to a domestic violence case from pretrial hearing to trial. Prosecution by the DV Unit is focused only on domestic violence between intimate partners (as more fully defined below) rather than a broader category of family violence that involves violence between siblings, parents and children, or other relatives.

In addition to the direct prosecution of cases, the Director of the Unit is responsible for community outreach in the form of coordinating and otherwise working with community collaborative and community education programs. The District Attorney's office also provides ongoing training of the police departments located on the Cape and Islands.