Fathers group, victims' advocates clash on restraining order survey

By Sabin Densmore, news staff writer, Gardner News

Monday, March 8, 1999

The request of a Gardner man to view and copy restraining orders filed at Gardner District Court has upset victims' rights advocates and spawned legislation to make restraining orders restricted documents.

Steven Basile, on behalf of Boston-based Fatherhood Coalition, copied approximately 400 restraining orders filed in 1997. Using data culled from the documents, Basile said he is conducting a survey to determine how many, if any, of the orders were filed to aid in divorce and custody issues.

"As a father advocate group," Basile said in a phone interview, "of course we're concerned about the misuse of restraining orders in divorce (and) custody issues."

He added that it sometimes happens that a spouse will file an order against his or her partner to try and gain custody of the children or to speed along a divorce procedure.

Additionally, he said he hopes to use collected information to update figures indicating the number of restraining order recipients with prior criminal history, citing inaccuracies in the 18 percent figure currently represented.

Nevertheless, victims' advocacy \groups are upset that Basile is contacting former abuse victims, and is concerned that the contact may upset people trying to get their lives back together. Additionally, Gardner Deputy Police Chief Rock Barrieau indicated that the Gardner Police Department does not condone the survey either.

"Just the nature that they have that information," Aida Ramas, interim director of Battered Women's Resources, said at a press conference Friday, "the possibility of getting victimized again."

"What we're doing is having women volunteers contact the women litigants," Basile said, adding that male volunteers contact male litigants. "People are not only willing to talk," he said, "but anxious to talk."

He indicated that one of his female callers reported that it was hard to get participants to stick to the questions on the survey.

Additionally, Basile maintains that the survey is not an invasion of privacy because the litigants were informed that cases become public record. He added that if litigants wished it to be closed, they could say so on the date of the filing.

Additionally, he said that both the litigant and the accused in each case will be interviewed in order to find out if restraining orders are being abused.

"Nobody has ever done a study," he said, "a serious research project."

For the victim advocate groups, however, the question of privacy still remains.

"Some of these cases are so rough," Barrieau said. "The woman has been beaten so much ... they have to put some of these women into hiding." He added that it could be dangerous for the location of these victims to be known.

"There needs to be some time where we have a little sympathy for the victim," he added.

Basile indicated that there needs to be attention to both sides.

"Nobody looks at the plaintiff's side of what's going on," he said. He added that maybe there are ulterior motives behind the filing of the order, or perhaps a restraining order is "not entirely the answer."

Part of the goal of the study, Basile said, is to start a dialog between both advocacy groups.

"Studies such as mine are necessary to find out when, how and why these orders are abused," he said, "so that the domestic violence and father advocate communities can sit down (to discuss it)."

The legislation, sponsored by Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, is intended to restrict access to restraining orders in much the same way rape victims identities are kept confidential.

"(There is) no purpose, besides intimidation," Murray told The Boston Globe, "for this organization, or any uninvolved individual or group, to access this information."

Basile maintains that the project is important and necessary.

"It would be a political embarrassment to Cellucci and Reilly if it was found out ... that the abuse of 209A is widespread to the detriment of hundreds of fathers and children," Basile said.

But the Battered Women's Resources and GPD are unmoved.

"It's legal that (this information) be releases, but that doesn't mean it's right," Barrieau said.

Return to CPF home page