Our country has had a schizophrenic approach in how we respond to domestic violence.
We have run the gamut from having laws that allowed a male, designated as head of the household, to use whatever means necessary, including physical force, to control others (wife and children) within the home. There was a period of time when domestic violence appeared to go under cover in an attempt to hide the issue. What went on behind closed doors was supposed to stay behind those doors. If law enforcement showed up to quell the disturbance, more likely than not, their training had focused more on mediating the dispute, separating the quarreling couple and instructing one of the individuals to leave the area for a while to cool off.
Domestic violence during this time was defined as a social problem rather than a criminal matter. Sometimes, officers would be called back to the same household, on the same night, to either again calm down the couple or to investigate a murder.
An individual assaulted by a stranger was, and is, treated much differently than someone assaulted by a family member. Conscientious people advocated for a change in the unequal application of the law in response to battered women and eventually mandatory arrest for probable cause laws were enacted.
The reluctance an individual exhibits in cooperating with prosecution has long been recognized as an impediment to holding an abuser accountable for violent behavior. While the Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused the right to confront the accuser, prosecutors who have adopted a "no-drop" policy for domestic violence cases have used other means to successfully prosecute. A case can be built on excited utterances, 911 calls, pictures of injuries, testimony from legal and medical personnel, and even by subpoenaing the victim and using that person as a hostile witness.
I am concerned when I hear reports of prosecutors using threats of charging a victim of domestic violence in an effort to force compliance. This is clearly revictimizing the victim. Don't these prosecutors realize there is nothing they can do that can compare with the harm the abuser has promised to inflict on her?
Many times I have witnessed victims of domestic violence offer a handwritten letter to a judge in open court and plead that the case against the alleged abuser not go forward. I have heard judges apologize to these women, from the bench, and state that with all due respect the case would go forward based on evidence being presented in the court.
There are those, even within the battered women's movement, who advocate that the victim should decide whether to press charges against her abuser under the guise that this somehow builds the victim's sense of empowerment. We certainly don't take this approach with other crimes. A bank teller is never asked if they want a bank robber prosecuted.
While I believe it is appropriate to take into consideration a victim's wishes, I also believe that we, as a society would do better to rebuild a victim's value and self-worth by moving ahead with prosecution of the offender.
The crime does not happen to just the individual. The crime is a crime against the community and the people who make up the community. A strong, effective coordinated community response to domestic violence removes the burden and the responsibility from the individual and places it to be shared by the people within the community. We, collectively, can do what one, individually, cannot.
For anyone who still does not fully understand this complex situation, I hope you never know what I know:
How it feels to run from your home, like a thief in the middle of the night, with sleepy, confused children in tow.
How it feels to wear long sleeves during a hot summer day to cover bruises or use strategically placed make-up to hide finger marks on your neck.
How it feels to wipe blood from your eyes while your 6-week-old screams in the background.
How it feels to curl in a fetal position on a cold tile floor waiting for him to pull the trigger one last time.
For assistance within the state of Florida, victims of domestic violence can call, toll-free, at 1-800-500-1119.
Mary Ann Peavler is certified as an advanced level domestic violence advocate. She lives in Spring Hill and can be reached at [email protected] Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.