Transparency of Domestic Violence in the Face of Its Ineffective Law

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“If we are to fight discrimination and injustice against women we must start from the home for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere,” Aysha Taryam once said. In the United States, someone is abused by their intimate partner every 20 minutes. One in four women are domestically abused. Domestic violence can be defined as violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner and can include but is not limited to: intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases (NCADV, 2016).

Domestic violence is transparent and ubiquitous. It is in your country, your state, your county, and in your own backyard. Deanna Walters, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, is the victim of domestic violence and has spent her last few years fighting for justice for her and her daughter. Deanna Walters was married to her husband Robbie Howell and had her daughter Martina when she began getting abused. She recalls a story when her husband kidnapped her and drug her and her daughter across state lines. Robbie used a plate of meatballs purchased from a gas station to tease Martina and convince her that her mother was unfaithful to him. He told Martina that if her mother would just 'tell the truth' about having been unfaithful to him, a constant source of paranoia and anger for him, then she could have some. Martina pleaded with her mother to 'tell the truth,” so Deanna fed the meatballs to her while Robbie beat her until she couldn’t feel her knees. Deanna was one of the few women able to take her case to court and won but, only because Robbie was convicted on kidnapping across state lines. This is a problem within the United States. Domestic violence crimes against women are overpassed within the justice system because of the history of domestic violence, the choice to prosecute, and gathering enough evidence to build a case. “I think people have absolutely no idea how badly a woman can be beaten in North Carolina without their abuser facing a felony charge,' Deanna said. 'That has to stop,” (The Documentary Channel, 2014).

Historically, domestic violence and the law has come a long way, but not long enough. There are two major things that have changed within the law in the last forty years. Those are that domestic violence is no longer a private issue, it is a social issue, and that domestic violence victims are often are excluded from court cases in that they don’t always help the case. That is all that has changed within the law.

Now let’s look at domestic violence from the beginning. Domestic violence in colonial times was prevalent and common. British rule allowed for husbands to control their wives in any way necessary. Bad behavior and misconduct would mitigate any punishment necessary. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when the first effort for protection of women came to light. Legal resources didn’t step in until the 1970’s and 1980’s when feminist lobbyist urged lawmakers to protect them. By 1983, forty-three states were on board for creating legislation for victims to seek asylum. The struggle during this time was explaining how victim forgiveness played apart and safety for children in these cases. The latest wave of advocacy has focused on coercion, power and control in domestic violence cases and criminalizing the abusers (Kohn & Laurie, 2012).

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Now, we’ll look at the most recent domestic violence advocacy movements. In 1996, the first “Violence against Women Act” was enacted that makes domestic violence a federal crime. In 1996, congress also made it a crime for convicted domestic abusers to possess a firearm in certain scenarios. However, most domestic violence crimes are handled on a state-to-state basis. The United States Department of Justice states that if you are experiencing domestic violence to contact local authorities. It is also states that an intimate partner only includes a current spouse, an ex-spouse, or two people that share a child. The problem with domestic violence being handled on a state-to-state basis is that it is treated differently in each state. There are no overarching laws. Though domestic violence is considered a “federal crime,” punishment is decided by each state. For example, the laws in Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia, Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii, Arizona, and Georgia appear to be less enforced than in other states as these states had the highest rates of female murders in 2010 and 63% by intimate relationships (K.M. Grassel, 2003). Another setback to domestic violence laws are that you must be convicted of a domestic violence law in your state in order to be restricted from buying a firearm. By this point, the damage can already be done. This also could be changed state to state as a state crime doesn’t always follow you to the next.

The choice to prosecute or not prosecute has become one of the most controversial topics regarding domestic abuse. Unless you’ve personally experienced domestic violence, we can’t assume to know the fear or pain one goes through in the choice to come forward, especially if you have children. Bravery, courage, and selflessness are some adjectives to describe the women that displace their fears and speak out. Donna Wills writes “however no matter how heinous the assault, the great majority of domestic violence victims have one characteristic in common: after making the initial report, they have neither the will nor the courage to assist prosecutors in holding the abusers criminally responsible” (Wills,1997). Donna gives a firsthand account to what minimizing abuse looks like. She talks about in her first year of marriage, her son witnessed her husband push her into a bookcase causing a statue to fall on her head and crack it. When police arrived, she said that she tripped and hit her head. Another incident followed a week later when Donna’s husband stabbed her in the face with scissors. It wasn’t until Donna begged her husband to help her receive medical attention and promised not to speak of his abuse, that he drove her to the emergency room. This is the problem with domestic violence and the law. Control, power, and coercion often affect the victim. It is hard for the justice system to recognize the manipulative antics, but they must become diligent and precise enough to catch these cases for the sake of saving lives. Donna’s case reminds us that while we think that forgiveness is weakness and should affect how the law deals with domestic violence, and that harm continues to occur and that children are scarred in the face of danger. Many victims are scared to prosecute; however, it is necessary, not only for the person, but for the children involved. It also makes a strong and bold statement to society. Domestic violence will not be accepted. This also leads into our next issue: building a case against domestic violence abusers.

The last and probably most important reason that domestic violence cases fall through the cracks of our justice system is because it is hard to build a case. The problem with domestic violence is that it is intimate and what is viewed as a public federal offense is completed in private. Our federal offenses are things that affect us federally and publicly, while domestic violence cases are behind the scenes, things no one knows about. It’s hard to build a case against things that are done behind closed doors. Police have protocol for people that report domestic violence. This differs state to state but, in most states, when police arrive on scene, they listen before announcing their presence. They also go in pairs. Only 42% of agencies require a risk assessment, allowing police to make decisions on how endangered the victim is. Only a small percentage mandate an arrest (Domesticshelters, 2019). The problem with this is if they don’t have enough evidence to hold the abuser, they will release them but by this time the abuser is already angry enough and will most likely take it out on the victim that they abused to start with, threatening lives if they ever go to the law again. Another problem with this is if they don’t make the arrest, the abuser might become angered with visit from the law and end up taking it out on their spouse. This is a very dangerous way to intervene in domestic violence cases. Trying to scare the abuser does not work, aggressive and immediate prosecution is necessary in order to save lives.

Though the law has made strides in the last forty years, it is still not where it needs to be. Many people argue that because domestic violence is a federal crime, it is treated the same in each state. They also think that because the law forbids contact after an allegation has been made. that it will keep the victim safe. Domestic violence cases often involve 'he said, she said' evidence, making the accuser's credibility highly relevant. Recorded statements, medical examinations, video surveillance, and the testimony of law enforcement can also suggest what the outcome of a trial will be (HG, 2019). Many people think that because the law does step in nowadays and has protocol for domestic violence cases, that victims will be safe and abusers will be punished. However, it is much more complex than that.

As we’ve previously discussed, domestic violence crime punishment differs state to state. Contact is also a sticky subject in that it doesn’t take into account communication over custody and or in person threats, only threats feasibly recorded. The he said-she said argument is completely unjust. If a victim has any sort of evidence, a narrative, a medical record, and picture, she shouldn’t have to defend her case over and over in hopes that the justice system will believe her over him. The last rebuttal I want to make is that admitting to beating anyone should not soften your punishment. This will only speed up the punishment and allow for the abuser to get out faster and to go after his victim.

The last point that I want to make regarding how the law is ineffective and does not work fast enough or seriously enough to save these women’s live, is a story about a girl who tried to get help but the justice system failed her. Laura, a twenty-one-year-old girl that had just finished her shift at the local Berryville Tyson Food factory got in her car, which broke down moments later. After taking it to the shop, she found out that someone had poured bleach in it. She knew exactly who it was, her abusive ex-boyfriend that was out on bail. He was awaiting his trial for beating Laura, dragging her behind a car, and strangling her until she passed out. Acuna-Sanchez had no “official” contact with her and checked in with his officer every week. Laura reported this event to these police and they told her that they would search for him but they came up empty-handed. She had also posted a cry for help that night on Facebook stating “It’s going to be a long night.” Less than forty-eight hours from this event, Laura was found in her apartment shot to death with her four-month-old son by her side crying covered in her blood. Her mother recalls this event every year on the anniversary of her death stating, “A police officer came to my house and I told him everything in detail: How Victor beat her up, how he told us we were all going to be murdered, and that he had guns. Why couldn’t anyone stop him? I believe in God and that he will take care of us but I don’t believe in the justice of Berryville” (Jeltsen, 2017).

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