Three Strikes and You're In: Why the States Need Domestic Violence Databases*

Article excerpt

Domestic violence entered the public consciousness during the 1970s,1 and activists' demands for attention and redress since then have brought about many changes in the law's response to abuse within the family.2 This Note examines the beginning of what may become a new trend in legal responses to domestic violence: legislation establishing databases or registries of domestic abusers. Though no law has yet been passed to create such a database, several states have proposed variations of it. This Note examines Texas and New York, two states in which these databases were recently proposed, as model jurisdictions for analyzing the databases' possible pros and cons. It first discusses feminist goals in the reformation of legal responses to domestic violence and concludes that a statewide database is a necessary and effective way of continuing the reform effort. It then appraises the possible criticisms that such a database would face and proposes a solution based on a preexisting program that many states already implement. Finally, it delves into the question of cost and posits that the benefits derived from a domestic violence database would greatly outweigh any monetary burdens it might impose.

In 2011, two states saw legislators propose a controversial new measure to be incorporated into the criminal justice system-a database or registry that would publish information about domestic abusers.3 Both databases would have made public the abuser's name, address, and photograph, along with a description of the offenses of which the abuser was found guilty.4 Access to the databases would have been available without cost to the general public via a searchable website5 or special telephone number.6 Although these proposals aimed to reduce domestic violence by warning past and potential victims, both proposals died in committee.7

Such proposals are relatively new, but the 2011 bills were not the first of their kind. One of the bills represents Texas's second attempt at creating a domestic violence database.8 In the last three years, similar bills have been proposed in California9 and Virginia,10 and there is evidence of legislative interest in the idea in Nevada.11 Despite the bills' admirable goal of protecting the public from batterers, none have passed.12

In this Note, I argue that despite the disheartening results of efforts thus far, state legislators should continue to advocate for domestic violence databases. I first examine the goals of domestic violence legal reform in light of the goals of the feminists who first brought the problem to public attention and find that a domestic violence database would be an appropriate and efficient tool to combat the problem of abuse in the family. I then compare the Texas and New York bills and conclude that the Texas bill provides a more cost-effective and reasonable means of establishing the database. Finally, I examine several arguments against the database, including concerns about its cost-effectiveness, and determine that the database can withstand such attacks.

I. Why the Database Is Necessary and Appropriate

A domestic violence database is needed in order to protect victims of abuse.13 The criminal justice system has faced significant problems in attempting to aid these victims, and a domestic violence database could resolve these problems. Domestic violence databases offer a preventative- rather than remedial-approach to combating this pervasive social problem while promoting feminist goals and supporting women's autonomy. Because the database presents a relatively unproblematic way for the state to reduce domestic violence and because domestic violence is still a major problem in the United States, every jurisdiction should implement a database as quickly as possible.

A. The Problems with the Law's Current Response to Domestic Violence

These days, talk of "empowering" the victims of domestic violence focuses entirely on empowerment after abuse has already occurred- basically, empowerment in prosecuting the abuser, severing ties with him, and building a new life on one's own. …