Over the past decade, legal reforms, increased services for victims, heightened pubic awareness, and aggressive prosecution strategies have lowered the incidence rate. However, domestic violence cases continue to make up a large percentage of the total number of criminal cases involving serious bodily injury and murder. Domestic violence cases present unique and complex legal challenges, because they are typically carried out in the home. Often, the only witness is the victim, and as Supreme Court Justice Scalia has written, "this particular type of crime is notoriously susceptible to intimidation or coercion of the victim to ensure that she does not testify at trial."
All too often, police officers respond to the scene of domestic violence, arrest the abuser, and refer the victim to support services, only to have the victim later appear at court and recant, or fail to appear to testify at trial. The high rate of uncooperative witnesses is explained by many factors, ranging from the victim's fears of retaliation, to economic dependence, to feelings of isolation and helplessness. However, understanding why the victim is reluctant to cooperate does not lessen our resolve to do everything possible to protect the victim's physical safety and to hold the abuser accountable for any crimes committed. My office is entrusted to prosecute cases in order to uphold public safety. Domestic violence is not a private problem, it is a public problem.
This office is currently offering specialized training sessions for police departments within Essex County on the best protocols and practices in the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence cases. The curriculum of this training covers the fundamentals, but also focuses on three priorities: 1) conducting lethality assessments to uncover indications that the violence in a particular relationship may escalate; 2) fully investigating the nature and circumstances of any strangulation incidents; and 3) writing the types of detailed incident and arrest reports that will help us succeed in court. Recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court and by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court have made it tougher to get certain types of statements admitted into evidence in domestic violence cases, but if we follow the best possible practices, we can prevail.
I am also proud that this office is collaborating with many community partners in the effort to eradicate domestic violence and save the lives of those who are abused. Multi-disciplinary teams are now in place to identify and monitor high risk domestic violence cases from the towns and cities within the jurisdictions of four District Courts: Newburyport, Lynn, Peabody, and Salem. Team members include professionals from victim services, legal services, probation, police, certified batterer's intervention programs, local hospitals, and this office. These teams meet monthly, and members also regularly communicate with each other in order to share information and to coordinate the best possible intervention plan for each high risk case.
Our efforts in training police and in supporting high risk assessment teams are only this office's most recent steps to combat domestic violence. My staff and I are well aware of the panoply of harm that results from domestic violence, and we are dedicated, along with our partners, to doing everything we can to stop it. Domestic abusers pose a significant threat to their partners, to their children, and to their communities. These abusers cause billions of dollars in loss and damage each year, ranging from medical costs to property damage to the costs of emergency services. Police officers often put themselves at significant risk in responding to volatile situations on domestic abuse calls. Victims in relationships with patterns of escalating violence often do not realize the lethal severity of the risk they face. The impact of domestic violence is powerful and widespread, but so is our determination to abolish it.