Nina Shapiro, a reporter at Seattle Weekly has written a very insightful article regarding domestic violence at Seattle Municipal Courts. Ms. Shapiro has consistently examined numerous areas of the Washington State Judicial system with a careful eye. Having dealt with Domestic Violence cases in our practice, this was a look at some of the issues that are rarely raised in a public forum, given the emotionally charged nature of these cases.
How the Cops and Courts Turn Abused Spouses Into Voiceless Victims
The “enlightened” approach to domestic abuse has left women passive and powerless.
“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.
Local practices around domestic violence are the result of a decades-long push by women’s groups and others to get such cases taken more seriously. In 1984, Washington state enacted a law requiring police to make an arrest when they arrive at a scene where they believe domestic violence has occurred. Merril Cousin, executive director of the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says the law followed a number of studies suggesting that arrests reduce recidivism more than, say, “having the guy walk around the block, which is what they used to do.”
In theory, women could ignore no-contact orders they didn’t want, and sometimes they do. But their partners will face the consequences if, for example, the two of them are pulled over in a traffic stop. “We try to tell our clients it doesn’t matter who initiates contact,” says Valerio. “If they do anything but hang up the phone or walk away, he’s in violation.” She tells of one case in which her client called 911 because his alleged victim was on his front porch in the middle of the night, screaming. When police arrived, they jailed him for violation of the no-contact order.
“The reality is, many of the people involved in these situations are going to be together, and have families together,” Hayden acknowledges. “People don’t want to split up.” Allman believes that victims are looking for things they’re not getting from the prosecutor’s office: “more reasonable jail time,” perhaps family counseling, and “help at home with child care, the stressors that are causing offender behavior in the first place.”
Domestic violence is a complicated area of law with no easy answers or solutions. However, we should be able to reexamine our judicial system to determine whether processes are dragging to many innocent people into its current.