A thought-provoking article by New York Times stages a very strong argument for pursuing domestic violence cases with the process employed in a murder case. In murder cases the victim is not around anymore and clues to the crime are actively sought as proof of crime. In domestic violence cases the victim often retracts her complaint or is unwilling to testify. Clues to the crime are generally available.
“Domestic violence victims recant their testimony as much as 70 percent of the time, according to some estimates.”
Anyone familiar with domestic violence situations will understand exactly why this could happen: FEAR, of being personally harmed, or of children or other family members being hurt. And not just that alone. The nature of this violence is almost always based on the aggressor’s attempt to control the victim’s psyche, consequently demolishing the victim’s ability to act rationally, even when in danger.
“Authorities in many jurisdictions still believe that without victim cooperation, there’s no reason to prosecute.”
Trying to prove that a crime has been committed without the victim’s cooperation is undoubtedly an uphill task and makes great demands on a prosecutor. But it can be done – and is being done, through ‘evidence-based prosecution’. With 911 recordings, photographs of injury marks and of the scene, text messages…
Back in the 1990s, Mr Gwinn, a prosecutor in San Diego, won 17 domestic violence cases out of 21, all based on evidence, without the appearance of the victim. His success empowered other prosecutors to follow the process, but the movement was severely jolted in 2004 when an SC judgment made out-of-court statements inadmissible. The complainant or victim would have to be present in court.
Years later the momentum has picked up again, but not everybody is enthusiastic. It’s hard work, especially if faced with an aggressive defense lawyer.
“Prosecuting… requires‘creativity, ingenuity, hard work and dedication’ ”
The National Domestic Violence Prosecution Best Practices Guide by National District Attorneys Association urges legal professionals to rely on multi-disciplinary collaboration, involving medical professionals, psychologists, law enforcement, social workers, victim advocates, to see that the victim is upheld in a support net, and is less inclined to recant.
Prosecuting a case of domestic violence can be highly complex and nuanced. However each case needs full attention of the state, the prosecutor and law enforcement agencies. The implications are profound. In the words of NYT, we need to understand “the intersections between family violence and nearly every other social issue we face in this country — homelessness, poverty, mental health, gender equality and yes, mass shootings.”
Read the full article:
NYT: We Prosecute Murder Without the Victim’s Help. Why Not Domestic Violence?
By Rachel Louise Snyder
Washington Post: How to protect women from domestic violence — before it’s too late
By E.J. Graff
National Domestic Violence Prosecution Best Practices Guide
White Paper National District Attorneys Association,Women Prosecutors Section