Friday, November 2, 2007

Domestic Violence Prosecutions

The Seattle Weekly's cover story (Oct. 31, 2007) is How the Cops and Courts Turn Abused Spouses Into Voiceless Victims, by Nina Shapiro.

Shapiro suggests that several policies take all control of the situation from the victims: the police must arrest someone when there's a domestic violence call, there must be a protection order preventing contact between the accused and the victim, prosecutions often go forward against the victims' wishes. The protection orders often break up families and deprive children of contact with their fathers.

That's a problem, according to several defense attorneys who work frequently on domestic violence cases. "I'm not sure about all this state-mandated intervention in people's lives," says * * * Theresa Allman, who works for the Defender Association. "On the majority of my domestic violence cases, probably 90 percent of the time, the victim does not want a no-contact order." Yet, she says, the victim "is not listened to. She's not respected. Her opinions are not valued."

"People have a right to make bad choices," agrees Pat Valerio, another public defender who works for the Associated Counsel for the Accused. A no-contact order, she says, is supposed to be for the benefit of someone who wants to be protected. It's not "to have all the power of government coming in and saying, 'We know better than you; you need to get over this guy.'" The state's policy, she says, is just another way of overpowering a person who's supposedly already been overpowered by her partner.

Of course, the area is complex, and there have been good reasons for policies like these. In the "bad old days," it was typical for officers not to make arrests in "domestic disputes" and just to walk a violent man around the block and tell him to calm down. Many abusers try to prevent their victims from testifying by threatening them -- think how abusers would act if they knew that they could escape prosecution if only their wives or girlfriends could be bullied into silence.

Coincidentally, I recently read a law review article discussing ways that domestic violence issues can -- and should -- be taught in law schools: Sarah M. Buell, The Pedagogy of Domestic Violence Law: Situating Domestic Violence Work in Law Schools: Adding the Lenses of Race and Class, 11 Am. U. J. Gender Soc. Pol’y & L. 309 (2003), available on HeinOnline (UW restricted). I looked up that article -- which I recommend -- because I heard Prof. Buell speak at a conference on teaching and I thought she was great. The article is part of a symposium, Confronting Domestic Violence and Achieving Gender Equality: Evaluating Battered Women &(and) Feminist Lawmaking, all of which is available on HeinOnline. So if the Weekly article piques your interest in domestic violence law, the symposium might be a good place to start.

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