The administration of Gov. Paul LePage and two state legislators plan to propose legislation in the coming weeks to establish gender-neutral rules for state-certified batterer treatment programs, a spokeswoman said this week.
The rules now are written to certify programs only for men, a fact that opened the door to a court challenge by a man sentenced to attend one of the anti-domestic-violence programs.
LePage’s bill will be co-sponsored by Sen. Emily Cain and Rep. Kenneth Fredette, said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for the governor.
“I suspect this will get unanimous committee support, pass under the hammer, and be signed into law by the governor,” Fredette said.
Batterer intervention programs are court-mandated group therapy sessions that meet weekly for 48 weeks. Advocates say they help people convicted of domestic violence learn new patterns of behavior to avoid future physical confrontations.
While there are programs in each county that serve men, only three programs in Maine serve women. However, the programs that serve women are not legally certified because the law specifies such programs are for men.
The bill would pave a legal pathway to certify the programs for women, giving them a more formal avenue for use by judges who craft sentences. Certification would make the current programs’ role in the criminal justice process more formal, and would put in place quality and review standards like the ones in place for men.
The push for gender-neutral language comes on the heels of a decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in the case of a 42-year-old Litchfield man, Christopher Mosher, who appealed his sentence in a domestic-violence case.
Mosher, pointing to the absence of such treatment for women, argued the unequal sentencing provisions violate his constitutional right to equal protection under the law, as they do not provide for equal sentences for men and women convicted of the same crime. The case was remanded to a district court in Augusta for more argument and testimony, which took place last Friday.
For men, probation sentences last two years because of the batterers program; while a woman, without a program to be sentenced to, would receive no more than one year of probation.
A decision in Mosher’s favor could undercut effective programs already in place for men, said Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, whose office argued the case. The proposed law change would preclude negative effects on men’s programs that already help clients to avoid re-offending.
“The recognition here is that batterers can be men or they can be women,” said Fredette, who expects a final version of the bill within two weeks.
Although most convictions in domestic-violence cases — around 85 percent, according to Bureau of Justice statistics — involve men, some women also offend.
But domestic-violence specialists said men and women are violent for different reaqsons. and require separate treatment programs that ultimately share the same goals: reducing future risk to victims, and teaching participants healthier relationship skills, said Sherry Edwards, Assistant Director at Caring Unlimited, one of the three intervention programs for women.
Edwards said about 20 women have gone through the program, which serves York County, since it was created about a year ago.