Domestic violence is “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power or control over an intimate partner,” according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The behaviors that perpetrators use against their victims might range from non-violent psychological tactics to violent physical assaults, which often require the involvement of law enforcement.

According to Maine law, bail commissioners set the bail for suspects charged with domestic violence. Because of this, many abusers remain in prison for several hours to, at most, a few days before posting bail. Spending a few hours in jail is minor in comparison to endangering others and causing them to become fearful for their safety.

Last year, 38-year-old Amy Lake and her two children were killed in their Dexter home by her estranged husband, Steven Lake, who had violated both his bail conditions and the protection-from-abuse order she had against him.

It is evident that current legal tools are woefully ineffective in lethal situations and that more action is needed.

Gov. Paul LePage has collaborated with Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, and others to create L.D. 1867, the Act to Protect Domestic Violence Victims. Lepage’s bill has several key components, most of which came from other bills making their way through the Legislature.

L.D. 1711, submitted by Cain, is titled An Act to Mandate the Use of Standardized Risk Assessment in the Management of Domestic Violence Crimes. Cain’s bill outlined the implementation of an evidence-based assessment that law enforcement officers would use during investigations of domestic violence reports.

The governor’s bill adds strangulation to the assessment. Strangulation was the cause of death in 43 percent of female domestic assault murders in 2007, according to information released by the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

The inclusion of both risk assessment and strangulation are important to ensure consistence and accuracy in reporting. Collecting this information will help police understand the potential lethality of certain cases and help officials set bail that is appropriate for the crime committed.

The second bill folded into the governor’s bill is L.D. 1704, An Act to Amend the Maine Bail Code to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence.

This bill requires judges to set bail for suspects in domestic-violence cases, instead of bail commissioners, and allows them to order the use of electronic monitoring systems in bail conditions.

Judges, who have access to a defendant’s criminal history, would be able to set more appropriate bail for violent offenders. It also would place suspects in jail for a longer period of time while they wait for bail to be set.

This extra time is essential to a victim’s efforts to create a safety plan and ultimately remove herself (or himself) from a violent situation.

If suspects violate the conditions of their bail and commit a domestic-violence-related crime, they would face Class C criminal charges, according to the new bill.

This law could save the lives of victims whose abusers are repeat offenders.

Maine must set an example of zero tolerance for domestic violence and hold perpetrators accountable for their violation of basic human rights.

By holding abusers accountable for their actions, we can prevent lives from being lost because of lack of protection by the justice system.

Maine lawmakers need to know that the state’s citizens will not tolerate domestic violence of any sort. They should support L.D. 1867.

Christine Crittenden of Skowhegan is a graduate student in social work at the University of Maine. Email at [email protected]


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