Domestic violence and the courts. Domestic violence is a serious issue often involving multiple Trial Court departments. Victims of domestic violence often come to the courts as a last resort. This is typically also when victims and their children are at their most vulnerable. Studies have found that one of the most dangerous times for victims of domestic violence is when they are trying to leave their abuser.[1]

Domestic Violence issues can extend to include matters relating to the Superior Court, District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Probate & Family Court, Juvenile Court, and Housing Court Departments. The Domestic Violence Education Task Force has worked to address training and information sharing across court departments.

Education and training. An Act Relative to Domestic Violence requires the Trial Court to provide biannual domestic violence training. Trainings on the new statute and on domestic violence risk assessment were provided in September, October, November and December to judges, clerks, assistant clerks, and persons authorized to take bail. 

The task force, under the leadership of District Court Judge Marianne Hinkle, worked in partnership with Kelly Dunne from the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center and Doug Gaudette from Holy Family Hospital’s Certified Batterer Intervention Program to create and present the domestic violence risk factor training this fall. The training, which covers domestic violence lethality and re-offense risk factors, was created with the specifications of the new law. Training has been provided to all District Court judges, is currently required of all persons authorized to take bail, and is scheduled to be given to all judges of the Boston Municipal Court and the Superior Court. 

In Spring 2015, the Trial Court plans to launch a new domestic violence curriculum, which will have online and in-person training components. The new curriculum will provide employees in related Trial Court departments with a common awareness of considerations in cases alleging domestic and sexual violence, including the dynamics of coercive and controlling behavior that increases dangerousness, re-offense and lethality risk factors, obstacles victims face in leaving an abusive relationship, and the increased vulnerability of victims who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, low-income, minority or immigrant.  

The Trial Court also plans to build a web-based platform for the online domestic violence trainings, as well as an interactive online library of resources available to all Trial Court employees.

New Domestic Violence Coordinator. The Trial Court’s new Domestic Violence Coordinator, Anna Evans, is responsible for the mandatory domestic violence training for appropriate Trial Court departments. More broadly, she will also help to work on policy to address systemic change on domestic violence issues. Ms. Evans joins the Judicial Institute team through federal funding from the Violence Against Women Act. She most recently worked in the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.

Domestic violence and Probation. The Office of the Commissioner of Probation is exploring a new pilot program using the updated domestic violence risk assessment tool, the Domestic Violence Screening Instrument-Revised (DVSI-R). The goal of the pilot program will be to determine if the DVSI-R can augment the current Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS) that Probation now uses. The Domestic Violence Education Task Force and the Probation Department are working with Professor Kirk Williams, Chair of University of Delaware’s Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, to develop the pilot program and data assessment measures. 

Information sharing. The Trial Court has developed methods for capturing and communicating information related to three areas: allegations of abuse (56A), dangerousness hearings (58A), and restraining order affidavits.  Electronic docket codes have been created, scanners have been deployed to courthouses, and staff has been trained to capture information since the enactment of the law. After CARI is joined with MassCourts at the end of the year, this information will become available to judges and parties at arraignment.

See Task Force members

 



[1] Source: domesticviolence.org, United States Department of Justice, National Crime Victim Survey, 1995.