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Editorial: Don’t hide domestic abuse reports

In the past, we’ve supported making sure that when a domestic violence case gets into court, the judge has all the information necessary to make a decision that might bring an end to such abuse — including any pertinent facts from the accused’s past.

In the continuing effort to provide greater protection for the victims of such abuse, however, there is now an alarming provision being proposed that would do more harm than good.

This new law, currently in the Legislature, would allow police departments to close off public access to all reports regarding domestic abuse cases and sexual crimes. It would create a second police log, to be kept in secret and away from public view, including that of media representatives.

Proponents of this idea say it is a step toward helping protect victims by encouraging those who have been abused to come to the police.

As well-intentioned as this may seem, closing off the public’s access to these crimes is a big step in the wrong direction. It keeps the public — and the news media — in the dark about incidents of domestic abuse in their community — as well as hiding the details of police reaction to such calls for help and how the courts handle them.

Instead of helping victims, we see this portion of the bill fueling an attitude that domestic abuse cases should be kept under wraps. Other than benefiting the abuser, how does keeping a domestic abuse case from the public aid the victims of their families?

It doesn’t.

As with any other function of government, transparency is key to safeguarding the flow of information as well as keeping tabs on government and whether it is working correctly. That includes our justice system.

Consider that one of the motivating factors for the Legislature came about because of the information provided by the Boston Globe about the domestic violence cases involving Jared Remy. If, as proposed, information about domestic abuse cases had been kept hidden, we doubt Remy’s case would have surfaced in the first place, let alone proving to be the ignition necessary for lawmakers to act.

The main reason Americans know about the past problems with police and court reaction — or lack of reaction — to domestic abuse in this country is persistent coverage of them by the nation’s newspapers. Without that spotlight of attention, we would still be in the bad old days when women could find no help or protection from abusive spouses.

Keeping domestic abuse cases in police logs open to the public can be a powerful disinfectant in improving society’s response to such acts.

We cannot afford to water it down.

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