Bold Action on Domestic Violence

Domestic violence month has come to a close and the calls to action spurred by the Ray Rice scandal have been hushed, but the tragic tide of domestic violence continues to sweep our nation.

As Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, I firmly believe that comprehensive action -- examining existing loopholes, elevating criminal penalties and prioritizing prevention -- is the only strategy that will result in systemic change. That is the blueprint Massachusetts followed this summer as we crafted one of the nation's strongest domestic violence laws.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, female victims experience vastly disparate patterns of abuse than their male counterparts, likely facing a breadth of violence ranging from financial exploitation to emotional intimidation; from stalking to rape. The extent of abuse for women often causes long-term mental health problems which may inhibit a woman's ability to succeed at work, to care for her children and to engage in other healthy relationships, among other challenges. This spectrum of injustice demands comprehensive, streamlined and forward-looking legislative solutions.

We in the Massachusetts Legislature are indebted to the courageous individuals who shared their experiences of intimate partner violence. We heard from these women and domestic violence advocates that prevention, above all else, is crucial. A recent NBC article reiterates that prerogative, citing the CDC: "The idea is to surround the next generation of men with a single, uniform message against domestic violence. It's part of a new public health view, one that treats the problem of domestic violence as huge, complex and permanent." This shift buttressed Massachusetts' legislation which strikes a balance between punishment and prevention.

Our law takes proactive steps to stymy the destructive cycle of intimate partner violence. It establishes employment leave for victims of domestic violence, broadens court authority related to custody and child support orders and creates educational programs in public schools. It also creates a specific charge of strangulation and suffocation, actions that statistically indicate an abuser is more likely to commit domestic violence related to homicide.

While we looked to the future, it was incumbent upon us to take immediate action. In recommending preventive tactics, the CDC proposes coordinated services and thorough data systems to "help understand trends, [provide information] and monitor effectiveness." With this background, Massachusetts' law closes a former loophole: Now law enforcement officials can readily and efficiently identify an offender with a history of domestic violence and take appropriate punitive action. It also standardizes records and mandates that information is shared across districts, ensuring that key decision-makers have up-to-date, accurate and exhaustive criminal records.

Massachusetts has established a robust and encompassing law. In doing so we've also positioned ourselves for future leadership. In an effort to consistently improve and better understand underlying factors, the law creates Domestic Fatality Review Teams which will investigate fatalities. We recognize this is a bold step that will require cooperation, commitment and professional and emotional fortitude. We will not shirk from what I feel is a civic responsibility as we work to create a safer communities where individuals receive the legal and medical support they so rightly deserve.