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NATIONAL NEWS | summer 2008

Tracking the Abusers
Can GPS protect women from harm?

EARLIER THIS YEAR, CINDY Bischof was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend outside the real estate office where she worked in Elmhurst, Ill. Though her abuser had violated a restraining order twice before, and authorities had deemed him extremely dangerous, he had been released after serving just 60 days in a mental health facility.

Bischof’s brother Mike believes that if Cindy’s abuser had been wearing a global positioning satellite (GPS) device that tracked his whereabouts, his sister might be alive today. His lobbying efforts helped convince the Illinois state legislature to unanimously pass a law allowing judges to order the use of GPS to track batterers who have violated restraining orders (it was signed into law on August 4).

“Without a doubt, I believe GPS would have helped,” Bischof says. “If my sister were alive today, it would have given her a heck of a lot more freedom.”

While GPS has been widely used to track sex offenders and other parolees, its use in domestic-violence cases is relatively new. Seven states currently have laws allowing judges to require GPS for domestic batterers, and a handful more have implemented such programs without legislation. Oklahoma and Hawaii, along with Illinois, currently have GPS domestic-violence laws in the works.

Proponents hope that GPS can be used to better enforce restraining orders, of which as many as 60 percent are violated each year, according to a Department of Justice estimate. In 2005, 1,181 women—many of whom were ostensibly protected by restraining orders—were killed by a current or former intimate partner.

In most GPS systems, the offender is outfitted with an electronic anklet that communicates with a satellite. The victim can designate “exclusion zones,” such as her home or office, in which she would like to be protected. In the best programs, if her abuser enters these zones, police and the victim are notified immediately. In many cases, the offender pays for the cost of the monitoring, which is about $10 a day—much cheaper than the cost of incarceration.

GPS monitoring inevitably brings up civil liberties questions, especially when used pretrial (one of the most dangerous periods for victims). But its supporters point out that many states already have pretrial detention statutes allowing them to lock up potentially dangerous suspects.

While current GPS programs have demonstrated reduced recidivism rates for batterers, advocates stress that GPS alone is not a panacea. “If we don’t have well-funded services for [domestic violence] victims, none of this stuff is going to work, period,” says Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., a Massachusetts antiviolence coalition.

Traditionally, domestic-violence victims facing the most danger have relied on the shelter system, which often requires a woman to give up her job, her daily routine and her support system. But Diane Rosenfeld of Harvard Law School, who helped draft GPS legislation now on the books in Massachusetts, believes these devices have the potential to change the paradigm of how we think about and respond to domestic violence.

With GPS, says Rosenfeld, “the onus and the responsibility for the criminal behavior is actually placed on him rather than placed on her.”