NEW BEDFORD, Mass. /Massachusetts Newswire/ — Following a meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Domestic and Sexual Violence in New Bedford, Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray announced that the Patrick-Murray Administration will file a bill to strengthen protections for crime victims and witnesses today. The legislation follows bills aimed at gun violence prevention and CORI reform, and completes the administration’s 2009 crime prevention package. The Lieutenant Governor also announced the administration has completed the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security’s Sexual Assault Law Enforcement Model Guidelines.
“Victims of violence and crime must know that we stand with them as they seek to recover after traumatic, and sometimes life-threatening, incidents,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “This legislation will enable the Commonwealth to better protect the rights of victims and witnesses by giving them the safeguards they need to re-build and take part in a criminal justice system that holds offenders accountable.”
“As a Commonwealth, we must ensure protections are in place, and the needs of victims and witnesses are met,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Domestic and Sexual Violence. “This administration will do everything within its power to bolster the safety and security of victims and witnesses in order for them to be able to participate in the system to hold offenders accountable and not to be re-victimized.”
An Act to Protect and Enhance the Rights of Victims and Witnesses of Crime allows victims and witnessesof rape, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and enticement of children under 16 to seek criminally enforceable protection orders. Specific provisions include:
Harassment prevention orders
•Creates a statutory scheme parallel to c.209A to allow restraining orders for victims of harassment, including sexual assault and stalking, without the need for a household or substantive dating relationship.
Victims’ Bill of Rights
•Allows victims and witnesses who are children or who have disabilities to have a support person in the courtroom during their testimony and an orientation to the court process.
•Ensures broader notification of victim rights, including making rights available to non-English speaking victims and witnesses, and to families of victims in unsolved homicides.
•Requires that a summary of victim rights be posted conspicuously in courthouses and police stations and that police notify victims of their rights.
•Requires newly constructed courthouses to provide separate and secure waiting areas for victims and witnesses of crimes.
•Creates a new felony offense of strangling or suffocating a household or family member (maximum of 5 years), with greater punishment (maximum 10 years) for aggravating factors including causing serious bodily injury, pregnancy of the victim, active restraining orders and second or subsequent offense. This type of serious violence is difficult to prosecute under current law.
Corrections to General Laws chapter 265, section 13M
•Creates the offense of assault or assault and battery on a household member. In the last legislative session, a second offense of assault and battery on a household or family member was passed into law, allowing for felony treatment of dangerous repeat abusers; however, there was no underlying first offense. This legislation addresses that gap in current statute.
“Domestic and sexual violence affect every community in the Commonwealth. This bill provides changes needed to protect both victims and survivors,” said Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke. “We are committed to a straightforward response to help those who need it during difficult times.”
The Sexual Assault Law Enforcement Model Guidelines will be a resource for law enforcement when responding to a report of an adult sexual assault. In addition to the legislation, these guidelines will help ensure that victims are protected from the very start of their interaction with the justice system.
The Lieutenant Governor made these announcements at The Women’s Center in New Bedford on the one-year anniversary of the Patrick-Murray Administration’s issuance of a public health advisory on domestic violence. The advisory sought to raise awareness and to educate the public about the resources available to aid victims. In the past year, the Governor, First Lady Diane Patrick and the Lieutenant Governor have taken steps to address domestic violence, including releasing the Massachusetts Policy for Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence guidelines, filming a public service announcement featuring the First Lady encouraging victims to seek assistance and participating in numerous events to raise awareness.
For more information about the Patrick-Murray Administration’s crime prevention package, please visit www.mass.gov/eopss.