Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Domestic Violence Report

I've read about blood-curdling screams.  I imagined it was just a very loud scream.  Maybe I'd even heard one before, although I couldn't remember one.

That was until Sunday night.

One of the few snowfalls of the season was progressing to fill the ground and cars with a white cover that would remain only as long as we would let it.  The windows were shut tight against the wind, which seemed like it was finding its way in anyway.

The television played in the background while my wife and I conducted various chores.  Then, the scream.  Long, high-pitched, and retching.  It cut through the snow and followed the wind into our home.  Someone turned the television off.  It may have been me.  I don't remember.

My wife and I looked at each other, each hoping the sound came from the now silenced television.  It erupted again, truly soaking into our skin and letting us know all was not right in someone's world.

At the rear window, I looked long enough to see an older woman holding a younger one.  The younger woman was bent at her waist, facing the ground and letting out screams that could rival the worst thunderstorm.  A man jumped into the driver's seat of a black truck and sped away, slipping on the slick roads.

I watched the women hold each other; the older woman coaxing the younger one inside.  Screams billowed from the younger one who refused to move.  They weren't asking for help and neighbors strode out of their houses to their cars, like nothing was happening.  Should I call the police?  Did they want me to?  Did they call the police?

Even an ADA has reservations, apparently.  The black truck circled back and I didn't know what to do.  Should I run and grab my phone from the living room and call the police or wait and watch as there needed to be a witness and someone to intervene if necessary.

It wasn't necessary.  The driver of the truck stopped in front of the house, somehow disregarding the wailing from the porch, and picked up the winter hat he had dropped.  He sped away again in the snow.

A police car appeared moments later.  Then four more followed.  Flashlights lit my house and the neighborhood's backyards as officers searched for someone who had left.

I spoke to the officers, some of whom I knew.  It was a domestic case.  The driver had hit his girlfriend on their front porch and took off.  Neighbors called the police when they heard the piercing cries.  The girlfriend did not want to report it or proceed with charges.

Domestic violence cases are difficult to handle.  Officers have told me stories of weekly visits to the same location.  A victim will call the police when their significant other is abusing them.  The police will lock the abuser up for the night.  The next day the victim will drop the charges and allow the abuser back home.  It's a difficult cycle for the victim to break free from.

That cycle is not the case in every domestic incident, but a lack of cooperation is more frequent in those cases than in others.  The police pass the cases on to our office.  Then, our domestic violence ADA's handle the case.  Some victims stand firm and testify against their abuser.  Some victims flatly refuse to cooperate.  Some need coaxing.  Some we must force because the situation is so dire. 

The cycle usually follows this pattern when a victim does not cooperate:  1) the victim reports the abuse to the police, 2) the victim files a report and presses charges, 3) the defendant is released from custody and told to live somewhere else, 4) the defendant and victim reunite at some point, then 5) the victim indicates the defendant has changed and does not want to proceed.

The bureau takes a toll on the ADA's.  They only handle domestic cases, which should tell you about the number of cases there are if an entire bureau is dedicated to it.  Every case has the potential to turn out badly for the victim.  There are horror stories of an abuser let out and taking revenge on the victim hours later.

What can you do when the victim refuses to testify against their attacker no matter what the consequence?  The ADA's in this bureau are dedicated to eradicating violence against women.  They usually have a vested interest in it and have participated in clinics throughout law school.  Like any DA's office some are conscripted into the bureau, but then excel.  All of them worry that the worst will happen to one of their victims no matter what the ADA does. 

As for my neighbor?  She never wanted to proceed and we just have to hope things do not end badly.  Do you think domestic violence cases should be handled differently from other cases?  How so?


  1. I feel as though I've read about a state where the police can press charges regardless of whether or not the victim wants to but I'm not sure if that's true or not. Regardless, I guess it would never hold up in court if the victims will not testify. This is one of the trickiest issues our society faces. I used to live in an apartment next door to a couple where the boyfriend routinely beat the girlfriend. At first I didn't know what to do--I only heard screams, never saw anything. Then one day he threw her through their screen door. I called the police. She didn't press charges. The boyfriend said to me, "You shouldn't have called the police" to which I said, "You shouldn't have beaten your girlfriend". I called the police every single time I heard screaming and crashing after that but all it did was cause them to move out and carry on their domestic drama elsewhere. It's a cycle of abuse that is hard to break free from. I think a really big problem is that once a woman HAS fully committed to leaving the abusive relationship, there simply are not enough protections for her to avoid her abuser. I've known of women who really tried to get out of it but the restraining order didn't stop their husbands/boyfriends from breaking into their new abodes and murdering them.

  2. That's an interesting story Lisa. You're correct about the order of protection. It is only a piece of paper putting someone on notice to stay away from a place. It does not prevent a person from doing anything. It just makes it an additional crime. Maybe we need to do a better job advertising the services and opportunities available to women in abusive relationships?