Domestic violence: Failure of law enforcement & justice system

In spite of a national conversation that takes domestic violence more seriously, law enforcement and the criminal justice system still fail to keep women safe.

The pestilence of domestic violence that plagues our country is finally getting the attention it has so long deserved. The behavior of NFL players and the incompetence of the NFL itself to deal with battering appropriately is now a topic of discussion across the nation. In this welcomed national conversation, the main focus needs to be on men—why they abuse women, and what can be done to change them into respectful and compassionate people. But a secondary and still important focus is on why battered women don’t leave their partners.

As I mention in a recent post on the Institute for the Prevention and Treatment of Mascupathy Facebook page, the reasons include: fear of further and more severe abuse, inadequate finances to start and maintain a new home, the emotional struggle of ending a family, and too often, the failure of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to keep women safe. Unfortunately, while our legal system and the courts are frequently effective with incidents of assault and homicide, they often give the crime of domestic violence inadequate attention sometimes, in fact, colluding with batterers.

Changes to law enforcement and criminal justice

Law enforcement and criminal justice were initially grounded on the age-old basic traits of patriarchy: control, retribution, and subjugation. While greatly increasing their emphasis on proper arrest and due-process in the last few decades, the system still falters when it comes to treating women fairly, especially in the arena of domestic violence.

Law enforcement sometimes, even in this more enlightened age, still fails to make arrests of batterers, and prosecutors too often drop charges. While the standard police response to an active batterer used to be nothing more than a request that the man, sometimes drunk, leave the home for the night, now there is usually an arrest that results in a jail sentence. However, charges are sometimes dropped if the abuser participates in a diversion program. The treatment received from these programs can be helpful, but the punishment does not fit the crime.

One woman’ struggle to end a relationship with a violent man

When The Huffington Post carried the stories of six battered women and their searing accounts to leave violent partners (“Why Didn’t You Just Leave?”), I found the portrayal of Nicole’s struggle particularly disturbing.

Nicole did everything right: she went to a women’s resource center, developed a safety plan, and found a new home where she thought her husband couldn’t find her. In fact, he did discover her whereabouts, and repeatedly stalked and threatened her. What is so distressing about Nicole’s story is that, even after leaving her husband, she didn’t receive sufficient support from law enforcement and the criminal justice system whose job it was to protect her.

“He lost his sense of control over me, things escalated. He immediately began stalking me. He would drive by my house. Call me over and over and describe how he would kill me. The protection order did nothing to stop him. I can’t count how many times he violated it. When I would call the police, they seemed almost annoyed. If you haven’t been assaulted, they’d say, there’s nothing we can do. Lots of times, they wouldn’t even come.

“When he would get pulled into court for a violation, the judge would just give him a lecture. He’s a great actor and he knew how to say the right things. He had been a police officer for about a year, and that got him a lot of second chances. He was arrested multiple times for aggravated stalking. But as soon as he was released, it would start again.”

What Nicole’s story illuminates for me is that although our country is finally taking domestic violence more seriously, law enforcement and the criminal justice system still need to undergo substantial reform in order to become truly accountable in dealing with batterers in a manner that protects women.

Investigate system’s response

In some ways, the collusion of the still patriarchal law enforcement and court systems with batterers is more distressing than the failure of the NFL leadership to take domestic abuse seriously. Owners and fans hold the NFL accountable. But we, who rely upon the police and courts to enforce the rules that society has set in place, must hold these systems accountable as well. It’s time for a broad national investigation into how law enforcement and the courts respond to domestic violence.

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