Protecting victims and their children from domestic abusers is one of the most important obligations entrusted to police and the Essex District Attorney's Office. No one should live in constant fear of physical violence and emotional abuse in homes where one has the right to expect to be safe and loved.

With a firm commitment to protect victims and stop the cycle of violence, I filed legislation shortly before taking office to strengthen the potential penalties for domestic batterers. Currently the maximum sentence for domestic assault and battery is 2 ½ years in the House of Correction.

The bill I filed, Senate 154, would allow prosecutors to seek penalties of up to five years in state prison for domestic assault and battery when appropriate. It could be applied, for example, if the defendant is a serial batterer, or if the injuries inflicted upon an innocent victim are particularly heinous.

Currently the bill is being considered by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, and I am deeply grateful to the many members of our Essex County delegation who are working hard for its passage.

It's a sad fact that despite public awareness campaigns and the tireless work of police, district attorneys, and social service providers, statistics reveal that domestic violence crimes have risen steadily during the past three years.

In the year 2000, the Essex District Attorney's Office prosecuted 3,496 domestic abuse cases. In 2001, that figure rose to 3,696, and in 2002, the number of domestic violence cases had risen to 3,945.

Simply stated, that means that increasing numbers of victims are at risk, and more and more children are living in homes where violence is an accepted and learned response to conflict.

This must cease.

By lengthening the possible prison sentences of domestic batterers, victims would remain safe for longer periods of time, families would not be witness to or victims of domestic terrorists, and it would send a clear and convincing message that domestic violence will not be tolerated.

Last year in Essex County, two victims were killed by a spouse or partner, both of whom had histories of abuse. Across Masssachusetts, 20 victims were murdered by those who supposedly loved them.

Those numbers are not acceptable - and I contend that the only acceptable number is zero.

Please be assured that all 34 police departments in Essex County, my staff and I will continue to vigorously prosecute batterers. The victim/witness advocates in my office will continue to compassionately assist victims who fear they have no place to turn. They will help guide them through the legal process and to needed resources.

My office will strive to work in partnership with agencies such as Help for Abused Women and their Children (HAWC), the Woman's Resource Center in Lawrence, and the Women's Crisis Center in Newburyport to help ensure the safety of domestic violence victims.

Our cause is strengthened when we work together. Sometimes, all it takes is a neighbor's phone call to police to stop an episode of abuse.

While October has been designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, domestic abuse is a crisis we must confront every day of every month of every year.

Through the passage of legislation such as Senate 154, and a commitment from all of us to address the serious issue of domestic violence, together we can change lives, we can heal lives, and we can save lives.