When a person beats their partner, even if that beating results in serious injury or an arrest, even if it was the abuser’s fifth arrest, you won’t read about it in the weekly police logs.
That’s because such acts of violence are carefully shielded by the state’s laws pertaining to domestic violence.
Under the law, when police receive a call about domestic violence or respond to an incident that appears to include domestic violence, that information is required to be excluded from the police logs, and any consequential reports are impounded.
Following an arrest, only the victim, law enforcement, the defendant and lawyers may access the police report. The public, including reporters, may only view the report following an arraignment, and once it is filed in a courthouse.
Police are not allowed to release police reports concerning domestic violence. If there is no arraignment, police responses related to domestic violence to a particular address or for an individual may never be made public.
The idea behind keeping these incidents off the books is to protect the identity of the victim. This is admirable.
“By virtue of releasing the names of a domestic case, they (the public) are going to find out who the victim is. That is the reasoning behind it,” Sandwich Police Lieutenant Joshua Bound said. “From the police side, our job is to protect the victim, even if that means not releasing the name of the suspect.”
Problem is, the law also shields the identity of the abuser, allowing them to fly under the radar and perhaps to abuse again. And again. And again.
This is unacceptable.
Last week, Katherine Harrington, a Sandwich resident who is the victim of a serial abuser, called for the creation of a registry for such abusers.
Similar to the sex offender registry, it would be a searchable database. You could enter a name and address to see if the person you just met on a dating app has ever been convicted of a domestic assault.
This is a good concept.
But it’s not a new one. The idea of such a registry has been discussed for years, and yet none exists.
One iteration of such a registry was proposed in Texas a few years ago. It called for abusers convicted three times or more of domestic violence to register. The registry would be available free online and was to include the names, birthdates and recent photographs of the offenders.
One glaring problem with the Texas concept is that so few abusers are ever convicted.
Domestic violence is a widely underreported crime with many survivors living in fear of contacting the police, held hostage by threats from abusers that, if they do, additional violence will come their way.
More often than not, abusers are never convicted of a violent felony. One report we read stated that just 10 percent of offenders ever come to the attention of police, and of these, less than 5 percent of domestic violence cases ever resulted in a conviction.
It’s a complicated, sticky problem. But still, there must be a fix here. It’s too important, too widespread to ignore. In Massachusetts alone, 1.5 million women are assaulted annually by a partner or a loved one, according to the state website.
Since publicly sharing her stories of abuse, Ms. Harrington said a devastating number of women in similar situations have reached out to commend her and share their own stories of abuse at the hands of a partner.
And these are just some of the victims.
Domestic violence is a minefield of violence, fear and stigma. Who among us is brave enough to step into that space to dismantle what’s not working and start building a real solution?