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Massachusetts sees 'dramatic increase' in domestic violence cases

The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.
Jesse Costa

Citing a "dramatic increase" in domestic violence offenses, a state panel tasked with reducing such incidents, including deaths, suggests officials may need to bolster public awareness campaigns.

People need to be educated about how to identify behavior or red flags, and about resources for victims and loved ones and for offenders looking to change their behavior, according to the State Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team's 2023 annual report.

The team is chaired by Kelly Dwyer, executive director of the Governor's Council to Address Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Human Trafficking, who said this is her final annual report. Other team members are designees of Attorney General Andrea Campbell, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mindy Hull, State Police Interim Col. John Mawn Jr. and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.

Officials in 2018 launched RESPECTfully, the first statewide awareness campaign in more than 20 years aimed at promoting healthy relationships among youth. That was followed by a 2020 grant initiative, which supported five programs to also "educate and encourage youth on building healthy relationships," according to the report.

"We are grateful for the support from both the Governor’s Office and Legislature for these programs, however, it is evident that more needs to be done," the 13-page report said. "It is our recommendation to explore whether these programs should be expanded, or new programs need to be created to reach more people across the Commonwealth."

Federal crime data showed a "dramatic increase" in domestic violence offenses from 2020 to 2022 in Massachusetts, the report states. The number of aggravated assaults — which include assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, strangulation, and assault and battery on a pregnant woman —climbed from 5,690 to 6,102. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter increased from 21 to 28.

As the state team and local review teams probe domestic violence fatalities, the report says access to more data is needed as officials try to identify systemic problems across local and state responses and develop solutions. To gain expanded access into state records involving perpetrators, the team recommends updating existing statute, which created the body in 2014.

"Additionally, the same limitations have occurred regarding record sharing of medical documents which include but are not limited to emergency rooms within hospitals or mental health information. Members believe this oversight have left them at a disadvantage during reviews," the report states, while noting the law curtails which state agencies can participate in the team's work.

According to the report, the state team's success "will ultimately be measured by our ability to identify opportunities for prevention and education, improve systems responses, and identify replicable best practices that increase safety for victims and hold offenders accountable."

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