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Letter to Editor, Telegram & Gazette

Law should not bar treatment for batterers

By retired Massachusetts judge Milton H. Raphaelson, December 18, 2002

A provision quietly attached to the state budget last summer changes domestic violence laws in ways that are contrary to what my experience has taught me about effective treatment of batterers.

Effective July 1, 2002, Chapter 209A of the General Laws was amended as part of the budget process, and as an emergency provision was made as part of the budget.

Chapter 164, Section 113, modified Section 31 by changing the recognized Batterer's Treatment Program to a Batterer's Intervention Program that is certified by the Department of Public Health.

Section 114 of Chapter 164 modified 209A Section 7 to read as follows:

"For any violation of a restraining order the court shall order the defendant to complete a certified batterer's intervention program, unless upon good cause shown, the court issues specific written findings describing the reasons why the batterers intervention program should not be ordered or unless the batterer's intervention program determines that the defendant is not suitable for intervention. The court shall not order substance abuse treatment or anger management or any other form of treatment as a substitute for certified batterer's intervention."

What does it mean? I think it means that for violation of a restraining order a judge must not send a convicted person to anger management or substance abuse treatment unless he or she makes findings in writing.

The former law stated that the judge may send a guilty person to a batterers program. The change may seem insignificant but, as a practical matter, it encourages judges to send convicted defendants to the program sponsored by feminist advocates -- a program that is not necessarily the right one in many cases.

Who is responsible for these late-night changes, made without input save the pressures of the aforementioned advocates? They reject substance abuse as the main cause of domestic violence, even though any honest survey shows that most of the men and half of the women involved in these confrontations have substance-abuse problems.

The advocates contradict this and say that when a woman drinks, uses illegal drugs or abuses prescription drugs, she is self-medicating as a result of her mistreatment. In the case of a man, they say he would abuse even if sober.

It is all nonsense. A woman can become an addict without the help of a man. And a man, if he stops abusing drugs and alcohol and receives treatment, will not abuse except in rare cases.

In Alcoholics Anonymous there is a saying," I didn't get in trouble every time I got drunk, but every time I got in trouble I was drunk"

That goes for almost every convicted murderer, whether it is a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend or bar companion. So why not change the law in a more logical way: Make judges send violators and victims to treatment that will benefit them as well as society. And I suggest it be changed after hearing testimony from all sides -- including fathers who have been severely injured, and often unfairly, by Chapter 209A and its enforcement.


Milton H. Raphaelson of Sturbridge is a retired judge of the Massachusetts District Court.

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