Op-Ed, Marian Ryan, Middlesex District Attorney
I write to thank you for the editorial bringing the public’s attention to two serious loopholes in Massachusetts law that thwart our ability to prosecute domestic violence offenders (“To crack down on abusers, two simple changes to law,” Sept. 30). These loopholes are the so-called “accord and satisfaction” provision, which allows abusers to pressure their victims into ending a prosecution, and the practice of treating acts of strangulation as if they were no worse than any other unpermitted touching.
My prosecutors have seen how these loopholes protect batterers and endanger the safety of victims. Strangulation is a brutal, extraordinarily frightening, and intimate form of violence. Yet the statute most often used to prosecute these cases treats strangulation no more seriously than a slap or a shove. We hope to see legislation passed that would treat strangulation not as a misdemeanor offense, as it frequently is today, but as a felony.
We know that domestic violence cases are about power and control — specifically, the power and control that the abuser has over the victim. While an accord and satisfaction agreement might be an equitable way to resolve a minor dispute between two equals, in the context of domestic violence, the abuser and victim are not equals. Permitting an accord in such a context takes the judgment of police, prosecutors, and community advocates out of the equation. Our proposed fix to the law would prevent an accord and satisfaction agreement in any case that involves a crime of domestic violence.
I hope the Legislature will act quickly to pass both of these bills and strengthen our hand in the fight against domestic violence.