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Domestic Violence: When Will We Learn?

A column by Ann Dapice about domestic violence.
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Pretend you are a bank president, your bank has just been robbed at gunpoint, one worker has been assaulted and injured, employees’ lives have been threatened, and you call the police. The police arrive and shake their heads and say, “What were you thinking to have so much money in one place anyway? What were you thinking to make such a bad decision?”

The police don’t arrest the robber as you had expected but tell you that you will have to go to court to obtain a protective order to warn the robber to stay away for a length of time to be determined by the court. In the meantime, since protective orders are often broken and the U.S. Supreme Court determined in 2005 that police are not obligated to enforce them, for your safety and that of your employees, you should move to a safety center where you will be in a secure place.

You say, “But how are we to continue to do business and earn money? How will we survive? I have an obligation to my employees. We can’t live our lives locked away.”

The police shrug and say, “That’s just the way it is.”

The police continue to explain that banks often report robberies that can’t be proved—probably as attention-getting devices for sympathy, so it’s not clear that your bank was robbed or your employee was actually assaulted. They say that perhaps the injury to the employee occurred somewhere else. You remind them that there are cameras installed to prove the attack and are told that these usually don’t work effectively as evidence.

You ask if the police will report the crime and are told, “No, too often our reports are ignored by the judges and cases are just thrown out. We have to spend our time on crimes the courts will act on. It’s tough, but that’s just the way things are.”

In disbelief, you contact your attorney, who says, “Yes, that’s the way the law is. You may just have to move somewhere else where you and your business will be safer.” You contact a judge in your neighborhood and are told, “Yes, the legal system just isn’t made for some kinds of crimes.”

Once again, you shake your head and think you must not be hearing correctly. So you contact your state legislator about improving the laws to protect people better. She says, “You have to understand that these people are criminals and they break the law—that’s just what criminals do. You can’t make laws for everything.”

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Not yet convinced, you contact private detectives and ask if they can help. Their answer: “Unfortunately, we’ve been told that since we are hired by the victims we have a vested interest and our reports are ignored.”

You then begin researching the literature and find that perpetrators of these crimes are rarely arrested and convicted.

You then contact people in the media who say, “Yes, we’ve been fighting that fight for justice for decades.” The reader must be in similar disbelief—what kind of “pretend” game is this?

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this is what happens every day to countless victims of domestic violence and stalkin—women, men and children, at home and in public places.

These crimes are against the law, but victims are too seldom believed, too often ignored and too often blamed for the crimes that happen to them.

In our work and research, we have heard each of the arguments above repeatedly from police, attorneys, district attorneys, judges, and lawmakers. Society offers victims protective orders that are too often broken and may result in injury and death. Society tells victims to move to a shelter for safety.

Such a response costs society far more than arresting and imprisoning the perpetrators—in money and lives.

When will we learn?

Ann Dapice, Ph.D.,Lenape/Cherokee, is the director of education and research for T.K. Wolf, Inc. Sherry Clark, president/founder of Families & Communities Empowered for Safety, also contributed.