New Laws Aim to Aid Battered Women Advocacy Groups Applaud Changes in a Number of States

Article excerpt

MASSACHUSETTS criminal justice and human service officials recently announced new guidelines for police when handling domestic abuse cases.

Under the guidelines, part of the state's new domestic abuse prevention law, police are given greater power in making arrests in such cases.

They also are mandated to make an arrest if they find probable cause that a restraining order has been violated.

"These new guidelines send a clear, strong message that domestic violence is a crime," said Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci in a recent press conference.

"For too long," said the lieutenant governor, "we've allowed public policy to focus on the perpetrators of domestic violence.... I think it's time we focused on the victims."

In the last two months, he said, eight battered women have died in the state.

The new law, passed last December, is intended to strengthen protection of abuse victims through better coordination between police, the courts, and human service providers.

Human services and women's advocacy groups applaud the new procedures. Prior to the new law's enactment, police would either make arrests at their own discretion or when requested to do so by the victim.

According to Rai Kowal, deputy director of Massachusetts Committee on Criminal Justice, police officers often handled domestic abuse cases like social workers mediating a family dispute, and were hesitant to make arrests unless requested to do so.

For example, Ms. Kowal says, instead of arresting an attacker a police officer might simply order the attacker to leave the premises or tell him to take a walk around the block to cool off.

"This is really a big step forward," Kowal says. "This takes a lot of the burden (for requesting an arrest) off the victim's shoulders."

Approximately 20 states have mandatory arrest laws similar to the new Massachusetts statute, which provides that arrests can be made upon violation of a restraining order, says Joan Zorza, senior attorney for the National Battered Womens' Law Project in New York.

Other states, including Connecticut, have even stricter laws that mandate arrests when there is probable cause that a crime has been committed - regardless of whether a court has issued a protection order.

Such laws can be problematic, says Ms. …