For Immediate Release
BOSTON, May 18-Dozens of men and women who have been falsely criminalized by the state's notorious domestic abuse protection law (MGL 209A) will give testimony before the House Judiciary Committee this Tuesday, May 18 at the State House, 1 p.m.
H3504, An Act Relative To Reform Of Abuse Prevention Law, contains several provisions to correct some of the loopholes in current law that short-circuit due process and encourage fraud. One proposed reform is a requirement that violations of 209A orders be intentional.
H3504, the 209a Reform Bill:
provides some fundamental and essential rights for the accused, while removing incentives and providing some disincentives for fraudulent misuse of the law.
Section 1 removes the part of the existing definition of abuse that relates to the state of mind of the alleged victim.
Section 2 requires that violations of abuse protection orders be intentional.
Section 3 remove provisions for no-contact with a defendant's children when they are not alleged to be the victims of abuse.
Section 4 provides disincentives for committing perjury in order to obtain an abuse protection order, and requires that requests for orders be signed under the pains and penalties of perjury.
Section 5 provides a basis for gathering data on the prevalence of restraining orders in divorce and custody litigation.
Section 6 requires that all hearings to obtain abuse protection orders be conducted in comportment with the Civil Rules of Evidence.
Law must address different circumstances of alleged violations
Few people realize that under current law, no distinction is made between intentional, accidental or contrived contact (by the alleged victim). For example, a man or woman who accidentally crosses the path of a former spouse in a shopping mall can be prosecuted for a violation of the no-contact provision of a protection order. Even such accidental violations of 209A orders are punishable with two-and-half years in jail. Governor Cellucci recently filed legislation to increase this penalty to five years for second offenses. Further, 209A fails to distinguish in any way between "no-contact" violations and truly violent assaults.
209As are weapon of choice in custody battles
Because 209A orders are often used in divorce and custody battles, many fathers have been prosecuted merely for trying to talk to their own children. Another provision of the 209A Reform Bill removes those provisions in 209A that allow plaintiffs to gain automatic temporary custody of minor children while prohibiting contact between the father and the children simply by checking boxes on the complaint form.
The Fatherhood Coalition, a Massachusetts, non-profit organization advocating for fatherhood, authored and first introduced the Reform Bill in the previous legislative session. The Coalition maintains that restraining order abuse is rampant, as 209A's provide a consequence-free tool for women intent on separating their estranged mates from their children during divorce and custody battles.
According to coalition spokesman Mark Charalambous:
"Everyone knows how restraining orders are abused, but no one has the courage to take a stand for fear of antagonizing the powerful, multi-million dollar battered women's advocates. Hopefully at this hearing the Judiciary Committee will finally demonstrate some sensitivity to the thousands of victims of restraining order abuse represented by those prepared to give testimony, and finally exercise some legislative wisdom by acting on the Reform Bill."
Fatherhood Coalition restraining order study under attack
The Fatherhood Coalition is undertaking a study of restraining orders issued in Gardner District Court. Our unpaid research team received unwanted attention from the Attorney General's office earlier this year when legislation filed by Senator Therese Murray aimed at amending the Public Records Law to inhibit the coalition's study was publicized with fanfare by AG Tom Reilly. The Fatherhood Coalition maintains that Reilly's attempt to stifle the study is evidence of a conspiracy of silence regarding the widespread abuse of restraining orders.
Steve Basile, the director of study, believes the attacks on the study and opposition to 209A reform is politically motivated:
"It would be a political embarrassment to Governor Cellucci and Tom Reilly if the public discovered that the abuse of 209A is widespread. But, denying the problem will not make it go away."
Unless 209A reform is enacted the harm will continue, because fraudulent restraining orders:
For further information or advanced interviews, contact:
CPF - The Fatherhood Coalition
A non-profit, all volunteer organization of men and women advocating for fatherhood since 1994
Return to CPF home page