GPS Monitoring for Batterers

Feministing directed me to this Slate article by Maura Kelly about tracking batterers with GPS devices.

It’s one of those things where my kneejerk response was, “Awesome!” but then every subsequent thought worked toward disintegrating my initial approval of the concept. (That happens to me a lot, usually at the beginning of relationships.)

First, as people in the Feministing comments point out, being able to warn the woman when her abuser’s in a restricted area only goes so far; he can still sit one foot outside the restricted area and wait to follow her to work or the gym or the grocery store. He can still phone her, send letters, send other people to her house. Another commenter notes that we’re talking about stalkers here, so they might very well think it’s a hoot to step a toe across the restricted line every day, tripping the alarm so the woman gets a call from the police reminding her that no, she’s still not safe from him. (Of course, one hopes the police would then use the GPS to find the bastard and arrest him for violating the restraining order, so he wouldn’t be able to do that repeatedly.)

The bigger problem for me, though, is the civil liberties one, even if Kelly couldn’t “find anyone who was eager to press that argument.” Here, allow me.

To my mind, this is a clear instance in which we must apply the same civil liberties standards to people we’d personally rather toss off a cliff, let alone imprison indefinitely. The fact is, we’re talking about allowing people to be braceleted at a judge’s discretion, based only on a restraining order—not, you’ll note, on conviction of a crime. And there are already laws on the books in some states allowing this. That makes me feel oogy. If someone’s gonna slap an ankle bracelet on me, I damn well want it to be after a jury of my peers has agreed that I’m a menace to society—not after one person has made a complaint and one judge has single-handedly determined it to be valid.

I know, I know, abusers aren’t prosecuted enough and aren’t convicted enough when they are. Believe me, I care deeply about that—hence aforementioned kneejerk reaction. And since I’ll never abuse anyone, I don’t have to worry about it.

Except, as with all civil liberties issues, the problem is not necessarily with the ideal theoretical application of a specific proposal as with all the ways it could go horribly wrong down the line. And we all know how this will go. Innocent people will inevitably end up with ankle bracelets, while guilty motherfuckers go free or find a way around them. That’s not okay.

Furthermore, I don’t think it’s okay even for guilty motherfuckers—as designated by a single judge—to have their whereabouts monitored 24/7. People who have been convicted of spousal abuse or stalking? Sure. Our system allows for restricting the civil liberties of people who have been convicted of a crime; that’s necessary. But people who have only had a restraining order filed against them? That’s getting into a grey area I don’t like one bit. I mean, I might even be for making non-convicted abusers wear invisible fence collars, and shocking the shit out of them if they step into a restricted area. But we’re talking about a GPS here. I’m sure that, for practical reasons, the cops wouldn’t be likely to do any monitoring beyond responding to alarms, but still—the technology is there for them to track every last movement of a private citizen who has not been convicted of a crime. That’s a big EWWWWW (and I’m pretty sure an unconstitutional one), even if I would love to see every stalker and abuser… well, convicted of a crime. And locked up for life.

I’ve been thinking lately about how the black-and-white nature of laws just can’t address the many greys of stalking and domestic abuse. In both cases, there are very obvious, consistent patterns of behavior that presage violent crimes, but since that behavior isn’t necessarily criminal, the authorities’ hands are tied. Hence inadequate stopgap measures like restraining orders, which often cause more harm than good, and stalking laws that are slippery as hell.

And unfortunately, I don’t even have a kernel of a solution to propose here, because as soon as the law goes grey, you’ve got threats to civil liberties out the wazoo. I really, really want to see stalking and emotional abuse, let alone physical abuse, treated by the legal system as serious threats that frequently lead to grave violence. But I have absolutely no idea how you do that without perching yourself atop umpteen slippery slopes, civil liberties-wise. And especially in the current political climate, I have to come down on the side of civil liberties every time.

Anybody got any ideas?

2 thoughts on “GPS Monitoring for Batterers

  1. It’s a frustrating situation. A woman who is abused will not file charges against her abuser because of fear that it will get worse (and it does if she stays), but then when she finally leaves and gets a restraining order, it has little or no bite.

    Still, GPS tracking does seem especially harsh.

  2. Spinsterwitch, I’m right with you in terms of the frustration, and wishing we had more genuinely useful systems in place.

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