Why repeal MGL 209A - the Massachusetts law proponents say is needed to 'stop domestic violence' ?
The Campaign to Repeal MGL 209A
MGL 209A (the so-called ‘Abuse Prevention’ law) was signed into law by Governor Dukakis in 1978. Since then it has been an accepted feature of our state laws despite its failure to achieve its stated goals and the many serious negative effects it has on families and individuals.
Some reasons why MGL 209A should be repealed include:
1. The law does not protect anyone but instead creates violence. No independent studies have ever proven the law does what is supporters claim.
2. There are no due process rights. Anyone subject to a claim under the law can immediately be removed from their home and separated from their children on the flimsiest of charges- sometimes permanently. All it takes is completing a one page form where no actual act of violence need be claimed.
3. Of the 30-50,000 orders issued annually even Massachusetts judges say it is obtained without merit up to 95% of the time. This is an astounding number of individuals who are effectively criminalized without cause.
4. During divorce, the law is the ‘nuclear weapon’ used to gain custody of children. It denies fit parents, usually the father, a fundamental human right to be a parent.
5. There is no presumption of innocence. One is guilty before trial. Indeed, under 209A civil charges there is not even a right to a jury trial.
6. It is duplicative and unnecessary. Assault and Battery laws can be used to charge and punish those who commit acts of violence. Judges also have the power to issue restraining orders when necessary.
7. Allegations alone have serious negative consequences - such as placing an individual’s name on a criminal-like data base which affects child custody and employment. This is true even when the initial 209A complaint, in some jurisdictions some 50% of complaints according to police, are not pursued. Even so, individuals remain on this ‘criminal’ data base in perpetuity.
8. Financial ruin. Allegations under the law result in legal fees in the thousands of dollars. Often times an individual must continue to pay for mortgage and rent and other costs for a home after eviction while the former partner makes a new life. And there is no opportunity for individuals to directly discuss their problems and work out arrangements for a household in disarray. To do so can result in jail time. Under such pressures individuals take drastic actions, including suicide.
9. The law discriminates against men (the overwhelming majority of subjects of the law are men) and is based on the false premise that all men are intrinsically criminal batterers and all women victims. It is fundamentally sexist and discriminatory. Independent studies as well as our common sense tell us that men and women have roughly equal capacity for violence.
10. Individuals are jailed for violation of restraining order for up to two and a half years for actions that would never be considered criminal in a healthy society. These include unintentional encounters and contact with one’s own children-even when the child is in need and reaches out to the parent
Unfortunately, the idea that we must have a law such as MGL 209A to ‘protect women’ is deeply ingrained in the public perception. Prior to its implementation our criminal justice system justly punished people for crimes they committed after conviction.
Under 209A this has been turned on its head and people are now punished for crimes that have not been committed. Instead of following the traditional maxim that it is better to let nine guilty individuals go free rather than convict one innocent person MGL 209A propels us to convict nine innocent people to ensure that one possibly guilty person is held accountable.
It’s time to eliminate this draconian and destructive law. Please support the effort to repeal MGL 209A.
For more information, to donate to the campaign or get petition sheets please contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone 857 350-0575. Petition sheets can also be downloaded directly from our website www.fatherhoodcoalition.org .
Chair, The Fatherhood Coalition