1992 Winner
Winners:
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
1992
Publication:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Sponsored By:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Jurisdiction:
Massachusetts
Every year, more than one million women in the United States are beaten by husbands, lovers, or other men in their lives. By the 1980s, many police departments had begun to address domestic violence as a serious crime, but the court systems were not as forthcoming. Many jurisdictions still treated domestic abuse as domestic disputes rather than domestic violence. Courts that condemned the beatings and murder of women by strangers employed a different standard for violent husbands and boyfriends. This attitude intimidated many abused women, causing them to reluctantly bring charges or to drop their case altogether. Restraining and stay-away orders against abusers were insufficient, and few men who violate these orders were actually convicted. Studies have documented that women and children are at their greatest risk when trying to leave an abusive relationship and therefore desperately need the court system to protect them.
 
In 1986, the First Justice of the Quincy Court, which serves seven suburban Boston communities, conducted an interview survey with some of the over one thousand battered and abused women seeking restraining orders. The study concluded that the Court needed to focus on empowering victims by developing procedures to make the legal process more "user friendly," while simultaneously controlling the abusers. These findings resulted in the creation of Quincy Court's Model Domestic Abuse Program in 1987, which protects battered women and children through court-based services and encourages victims to seek justice and safety by charging batterers. The program cultivates unique partnerships among the court, the district attorney, the probation department, the police, battered women's shelters, batterers' treatment groups, and drug and alcohol recovery centers to address every aspect of this complex problem.
 
Quincy Court's Model Domestic Abuse Program encourages battered women to work within the justice system by revamping it to respond to the victim's specific needs. To ensure that abused women understand how to use the system, the district attorney's office conducts daily briefing sessions to explain to victims their rights; it also arranges for advocates to accompany victims to the court. To expedite hearings and minimize waiting, the Quincy Court holds two special sessions each day so victims can obtain restraining orders. A separate office staffed by women who are experts in domestic abuse helps victims find the additional support and social services.
 
The Court not only empowers victims but also cracks down on abusers. A probation program routinely confiscates weapons and strictly enforces orders prohibiting alcohol and drug use, using random testing to monitor compliance. Offenders who continue to threaten violence against their victims are brought to court and sentenced immediately.  Many batterers also utilize outside services and are often sent to specialized treatment programs for substance abuse and rehabilitation.
 
Between 1987 and 1992, the number of women seeking restraining orders from the Quincy Court doubled, and these victims persevered in pressing their cases two to three times more often than women in other jurisdictions. The number of abusers placed on supervised probation rose from 35 in 1986 to more than 200 in 1992. The most significant measure of the program's success has been the decline in deaths from battering. In 1991, the Quincy Court district had no domestic homicides, but nearby Essex County, with a similar population and size, experienced 15 domestic murders. As domestic violence in the district continues to drop, strengthening the Court's reputation, more and more women are seeking help, appearing at court hearings, entering support groups, and taking out criminal charges. Victims no longer fall through the cracks, but rather are actively participating in the judicial process, reclaiming their lives, and helping others to follow their path to safety.
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