Massachusetts elected officials vowed to review a privacy law designed to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence after a WBUR investigation found the law has often been used to protect police and perpetrators and made it harder for victims to obtain documents they need for protective orders or custody battles.
Gov. Charlie Baker said he wants the Legislature to take action to help survivors. That includes rethinking the statute that requires police to keep secret all reports and arrests related to domestic abuse and sexual assaults, something no other state does.
“I’m all in on talking about that and trying to get something on my desk,” he said.
WBUR’s reporting revealed the confidentiality law has allowed police departments to shield information about officers accused of sexual misconduct and assaults on family members. Police departments have also cited the law to withhold information about how they handled requests for help.
House and Senate leaders, including Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano, said they plan to review the law in the next legislative session that starts in January.
Judiciary committee co-chair Representative Michael Day said in a statement the committee will undertake a quote “substantive review” of the law and its consequences.
His co-chair, state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, called WBUR’s findings “disturbing,” especially the fact that police departments use the law to withhold information about officers accused of wrongdoing.
“To think that a law that the legislature passed is actually enabling such behavior is deeply troubling,” he said.
Eldridge blamed some of the problems to the way the latest version of the law was passed, tucked into a much larger domestic violence bill crafted after a horrific homicide in 2013. He said lawmakers never fully discussed the secrecy provision.
Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Maura Healey has long expressed concerns with the law. She argues alleged abusers should not excluded from public police logs.
“We now have the benefit of some time with this and study about the effect of the law,” she said. “Let’s take a hard look at that. And if we need to to work with the legislature to make needed changes, let’s do it.”
Geoff Diehl, the Republican nominee for governor, says he’s also open to reviewing how the law is working.
The idea behind the law was to encourage more victims of domestic violence to come forward. But WBUR found that there’s been no meaningful change in the number of abuse reports made since the privacy law went into effect.
But if the law isn’t accomplishing its goal, Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn said there’s good cause to change it.
“If that was one of the main reasons that maybe you ought to take a look at the provisions that have resulted in more secrecy with respect to obtaining the information,” he said.
Making it harder to get information about these crimes, Quinn said, isn’t good for victims — or the rest of us.