IN THEIR EFFORT to overhaul the state's domestic abuse laws, Massachusetts legislators failed to think through the broader implications of a provision that was tucked in the bill with little to no debate. It prohibits information about domestic abuse complaints and arrests from being logged into daily police records, which are public. There may be some victims of domestic abuse who would rather keep these details private, but the provision mainly serves the interests of accused batterers. Like anyone else accused of a crime, they should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But they shouldn't be accorded extra courtesies along the way. Governor Patrick, who must sign the bill by Monday, should instead send it back to the Legislature for amendment.
The comprehensive legislation, passed last week, promises to do a lot of good in helping to prevent domestic violence and enhancing protections for its victims. It extends new tools to prosecute abusers and strengthens penalties. But however well-intentioned the police-records provision may be — some domestic violence advocates claim victims would feel more comfortable coming forward if their names were not made public — little or no good will result from keeping information about domestic violence complaints or arrests from the press and public. Too often, even in the case of repeat offenders who target girlfriend after girlfriend, people close to the problem say they knew too little to help.
Creating a culture of secrecy around domestic violence won't assist victims; it will prevent public officials, employers, and even family members of abusers from learning enough to protect others.