WESTBOROUGH, MA March 21, 2017 When working as a police officer I was asked to take the statements of women who were asking for protection from an abusive spouse or intimate partner. These requests were usually granted by the on-call judge – especially if children were at risk or a history of physical abuse was suspected. But these orders only last a short time – perhaps a weekend. In order to have restraining orders extended the victim is expected to go to the district court and swear testimony that specifies the reasons for an order of protection including threats or actual physical harm, forced sexual contact, pathological jealousy – whatever. Sometimes this happens and protection orders are extended usually for 6 months. During this time the couple is expected to sort out their differences and engage the help of a family therapist, if possible. This rarely happens.
“Domestic violence is not random and unpredictable. There are red flags that trigger an emotional undulation that bears energy like the movement of tectonic plates beneath the sea.” according to Michael Sefton. A psychological autopsy should be undertaken to effectively understand the homicide and in doing so contribute to the literature on domestic violence and DVH according to Sefton who with colleagues published the Psychological Autopsy of a case from Dexter, Maine where a father murdered his children, estranged wife and ultimately himself (Allanach, et al, 2011).
More often than not, the victim fails to appear for this process and the protective order goes away without any consequences. Why? In the time between the initial emergency order and the Monday morning when the victim is expected to substantiate her initial claims she may have been bullied by her spouse and worked over by his family, his friends and whomever he can enlist in his camp to get her to let it go. She is made to believe that she cannot function without her abuser. When children are involved an abusive spouse will usually say that child protective services will take the children for whatever reason he comes up with. He promises to destroy her credit worthiness, she will be penniless, and he threatens to share lies about her on social media pages for all to see. He may also promise to kill her and cut her to pieces to be used as fish bait – as I have been told in a case being investigated by my former agency. But he swears his love for her always.
This happens over and over.
In some cases the order to extend the restraining order results from elevated risk to the victim and recurring threats of violence. In these cases orders of protection go on for months or years at a time. This type of bullying is an example of the often secretive coercion that takes place in DV and intimate partner abuse is flagrant and often goes unreported. It must be considered whenever an initial order is not sustained especially if the victim fails to appear.
In some cases there is more than one order of protection issued to protect one or more intimate partners. This is a red flag and should have bearing on the bail requirements but seldom does. There should be some follow-up with the original complainant by the police department to investigate her reasons for not pursuing the extended order of protection and determine what impact bullying may have played on the victim’s decision. In rare cases permanent orders are granted because of compelling evidence that the victim and her family remains at risk – usually the result of stalking.
In March 2014, I published a blog in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted a permanent restraining order even though the former spouse was living in Utah and was remarried. In 2014 the Boston Globe did a story on the case written by Martin Valencia essentially raising the spector of the abuser in this case and the current impact the court order has on his day to day life in Utah.
Kevin Caruso was unable to get a job as a youth baseball coach because of a continuing order of protection here in Massachusetts that shows up on his CORI report. He could not own a firearm and was sometimes hassled at airports. The SJC ruled that Kevin Caruso must submit “clear and convincing evidence” that he no longer poses a danger to former girlfriend in a case dating back to 2001. The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts has required that Mr. Caruso provide proof that “he has ‘moved on’ from his history of domestic abuse and retaliation”. It is well-known that male abusers move from one abusive relationship to another. A colleague Dr. Ron Allanach wrote “In the Caruso case, the Court is proactive, sensing the burden is on the offender rather than the victim; thus, the responsibility for proof that Mr. Caruso has “let it go”, poses no danger to the victim and has done the necessary therapy on his own behavior and to figure strategies to change, rests precisely on the shoulders of the offender where the burden should always remain.” The SJC called the frustration felt by Mr. Caruso the “collateral consequence” of the permanent restraining order put in place initially issued as a result of his threats to kill his former girlfriend. Time alone and location has no bearing on whether a permanent order is sustained. No person should live is fear that a former partner is going to appear at her workplace or stand behind her in the line at Starbucks while she thinks about what blend of coffee she might want.
“Substantive decisions about bail or no bail holds will be more reliable by having access to the violent history of domestic violence offenders and the protective orders that have been issued time and time again.” Michael Sefton
Allanach, R. Court is proactive. Personal correspondance. March 2014
Sefton, M. 2014, https://msefton.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/collateral-consequences-stay-away-orders-that-are-forever/ taken January 21, 2017
Valencia, Milton. SJC rules on Utah man’s permanent restraining order. Boston Globe March 11, 2014, taken March 24, 2017