To the Editor:
Domestic violence has always been present. But for many years, it was not thoroughly addressed. In my tenure of 12 years as a Cape & Islands prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, and as a defense attorney thereafter, great strides have been made.
In the 1970s and 1980s, restraining orders became available, but were not widely used. As awareness grew, steps were taken to enhance prosecution and to assist and protect victims. In the 1980s, my former boss, Philip A. Rollins, started the Victim Witness Assistance Program. In 1989, the Vineyard got its own Victim Witness Assistant when Marnie Edwards was assigned to the Edgartown court, a position she still holds today. In 1992, a Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit was established by the DA’s office, and J. Thomas Kirkman was appointed its head. He held that position for 16 years, and is now our presiding judge in the Edgartown District Court.
The laws have also progressed. In 2014, An Act Relative to Domestic Violence was passed by the legislature, creating sweeping changes. This act created the new offense of assault and battery on a household or family member, and the offense of strangulation/suffocation. It also put protections in place for domestic abuse victims similar to those that protect sexual assault victims, such as keeping police reports out of the public record. This act prohibits those arrested for domestic abuse–related offenses from being released on bail for at least six hours, and calls for the names of alleged domestic abuse offenders to be entered into a statewide domestic violence recordkeeping system. The act also enhanced penalties for domestic abuse–related offenses. Although the bulk of the act focuses on the prosecution of domestic violence offenses, it also mandated domestic violence training for prosecutors, law enforcement, court personnel, and mental health and home services personnel. Penalties for violations were also enhanced with the requirement that offenders take a certified batterer’s program. After fits and starts over the past few years, a certified batterer’s program has finally been firmly established on the Vineyard.
On a community level, in 1981, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services initiated Women’s Support Services. In 2008, the organization morphed into Connect to End Violence. This program provides a 24-hour hotline and services to victims and family members, and services in the Island schools by way of educational workshops and volunteer programs. My own daughter, Mary, volunteered at Connect for her junior and senior years at MVRHS, and had an educational and enlightening experience.
We have come a long way, but the central issue in my mind is still awareness. The Vineyard Haven seawall event, led by MOVE (Men Opposing Violence Everywhere) on MV, a collaborator of Connect, is a great way to promote such awareness. I hope to see you there, July 14, at 11 am.
Charles A. Morano
Morano is a candidate for clerk of Dukes County Superior Court. – Ed.