Recently, a Florida judge was publicly reprimanded for her behavior in a domestic violence case. You can check out the article here. Specifically, the judge berated a domestic violence victim for failing to appear to court to testify against the defendant because the victim was “anxious and depressed.” In response, the judge held her in contempt of court and sentenced her to three days in jail despite her pleas that she had to take care of her one year old child.
Victim shaming is not the answer.
This story highlights an important issue when it comes to domestic violence cases in our criminal justice system. What happens when a victim of domestic violence doesn’t want to prosecute a case?
Look, there is no question that domestic violence is a serious issue. It’s truly tragic that people are abused. And both courts and prosecutors have a legitimate concern that victims don’t come forward because they either are protecting their abuser or scared to testify against them.
However, taking the “blunt force” approach of forcing the victim to testify (and punishing them when they don't) is not the answer. As is clear from this story, ignoring the victim’s concern simply victimizes them again. And it shows a true lack of empathy of the emotional complexity of these cases.
Making it “easier to prosecute” is also not the right answer.
I’m sure that alternative argument is to make it easier to convict defendants charged with domestic assault. However, impeding an accused’s constitutional rights is not the solution either. The constitutional rights provided to defendants are at the bedrock of our judicial system. And frankly the flaws in our system are often rooted in denial of those very same constitutional rights.
The real answer is the difficult, slow one.
Like with any complex problem, there’s no smoking gun solution. Frankly, if it were that simple, it would have already been resolved. I think the true solution is the most difficult.
When it comes to domestic violence, I think that it’s through education that progress will be made – educating victims of their rights, educating prosecutors about the complexities of domestic violence and empathy for victims, educating law enforcement how to not only gain evidence for a conviction but to gain the trust of all parties involved, and educating the public about what actually happens once a domestic violence case enters the criminal justice system.
A solution is also sought in attempting to understand the causes of domestic violence. While of course not every domestic violence situation has and underlying cause – sometimes people are just horrible people. However, in many of the cases I’ve dealt with alcohol, drugs, poverty, and mental health issues serve as a foundation for truly warped relationships and behavior. And sadly, counseling and treatment are either out of reach, discouraged, or not taken seriously.
In reality, domestic violence will persist in our society. And we must continue to try to understand it. But taking the “easy” and reactive approaches often times do more harm than good.
Feel free to let us know your thoughts. If you have been the victim of domestic violence, please call James Abrenio at (703) 584-7277.