Over the last three decades, the criminal justice system has and should continue to play a role concerning criminal domestic violence intervention.
There is little question that over the last 30 years many lives have been saved and some families have been made safer because of the criminalization of domestic violence.
However, there are obvious and painful problems with some domestic violence policies and practices. Too often public policy makers ignore the empirically based policy relevant findings of National Institute of Justice sponsored studies. Too often domestic violence advocates and public policy makers do not know these studies exist.
The National Institute of Justice report, Controlling Violence Against Women: A Research Perspective on the 1994 VAWA's Criminal Justice Impacts should be read by all domestic violence advocates and public policy makers and it can be found online at http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/197137.pdf.
This above report concludes that: "Above all, they [public policy makers] need to know that their policies and practices will not endanger women [emphasis added]. Unfortunately, there are too few preventive impact evaluations of policies already in place and fewer still that approach methodological standards insuring sound data for shaping policy."
It would be beneficial to both law enforcement and many domestic violence victims if our policy makers read the above report. There are no evaluations in place, no methodological standards and no data that demonstrate that mandatory domestic violence policies and practices will not endanger some victims.
Further the above report notes that, "We still have much to learn about differences in offenders and differences in populations of victims to justify advocating one policy over another without qualifications." This prudent and sensible advice has fallen on the blind eyes and deaf ears of many domestic violence advocates and many public policy makers.
Without evaluations in place, lacking methodological standards and without data to document they would not be harmful to some domestic violence victims our public policy makers have ignored National Institute of Justice studies and passed legislation that created, in many states, mandatory reporting procedures, mandatory arrest, and no drop prosecution policies.
National Institute of Justice studies document these policies and practices can produce negative effects for some victims. Mandatory legal policies and practices have silenced many domestic violence victims and caused others to lose any and all control over their lives and the lives of their children.
Helpful For Some, Harmful For Others
Many NIJ studies document mandatory policies, practices and "one-solution-fits-all" criminal justice intervention processes have produced some unintended negative consequences. These mandatory polices and practices can save some lives and can make some families safer. However, at the same time NIJ studies documents they can have some negative effects and endanger victims they are intended to protect.
The report Forgoing Criminal Justice Assistance: The Non-Reporting of New Incidents of Abuse in a Court Sample of Domestic Violence Victims http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/grants/195667.pdf, documents that rigid mandatory interventions ignore the diversity of the victim desires and lack varied programs suited for the characteristics of multi-problem offenders can cause many victims to ignore the system designed to assist them.
This report documents that some victims, after criminal justice intervention, will not report future victimizations. This demonstrates that aggressive, one-solution-fits-all criminal justice policies are, in some incidences, not only ineffective, they can prove to be more harmful than helpful.
A New Awareness
Now there is a feminist organization that agrees with many law enforcement officials concerning mandatory policies and practices. This organization lists its beliefs and values to be:
Our work is guided by our vision of a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class or sexual orientation. We believe that equality and inclusion are the cornerstones of a true democracy in which the worth and dignity of every person is valued.
This organization has concluded in its report, Safety & Justice for All: Examining the Relationship between the Women's Anti-Violence Movement and the Criminal Legal System, http://www.ms.foundation.org/user-assets/PDF/Program/safety_justice.pdf that our public policy makers have in fact, put in place policies and practices that do endanger some victims.
In fact this organization has concluded that those who are being endangered most by these policies and practices are the very same victims who need help the most. This organization believes that our public policy makers should abandon the use of mandatory legal practices such as mandatory reporting, mandatory arrest, and no drop prosecution policies.
This organization believes that many policies and practices that were intended to help victims have instead harmed many families. It also believes that these policies and practices have eroded the rights of many who have been arrested and prosecuted.
The NIJ report, "Effects of No-Drop Prosecution of Domestic Violence Upon Conviction Rates" (NCJ Number 193235 at http://abstractsdb.ncjrs.org) notes that: "Finally, we do not know whether no-drop increases victim safety or places the victims in greater jeopardy. . . Before no-drop is embraced as a desirable policy, we owe it to victims to find out whether they are well-served by taking away their right to decide the extent to which they want to pursue a criminal justice solution to their problem."
Another NIJ funded report that is important concerning legislation is The Exposure Reduction or Backlash? The Effects of Domestic Violence Resources on Intimate Partner Homicide. http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/grants/186194.pdf. It suggests that: "The results for prosecutor willingness suggest that simply being willing to prosecute cases of protection order violations may aggravate already tumultuous relationships . . . Increases in the willingness of prosecutors' offices to take cases of protection order violation are associated with increases in the homicide of white married intimates, black unmarried intimates, and white unmarried females."
The National Research Council report
The book, Advancing the Federal Research Agenda on Violence Against Women (books.nap.edu/catalog/10849.html), notes that researchers and scholars WHO DO NOT DISTINGUISH BETWEEN VIOLENCE, ABUSE, OR BATTERING, MAY DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD. Few, if any domestic violence policies and practices passed by federal or state legislators make that important distinction.
The Ms. Foundation understands full well that some contemporary domestic violence policies and practices have a disproportionate, negative impact on some victims. The Ms. Foundation report suggests that many policies and practices put in place by our public policy makers continue to ignore the fact that many victims want, reclamation, rehabilitation, redemption, and restoration, rather than arrest and incarceration. Victims want their voices heard not silenced. Victims want their needs heeded, not ignored.
In fact, many of our domestic violence policies and practices are eerily similar to the mandatory drug policies and practices. It is mystifying why progressives and liberals who oppose mandatory drug arrest, sentencing policies and practices do not oppose mandatory domestic violence arrests, policies and practices.
There are many public policy makers and domestic violence advocates who are more than willing to take the credit for passing laws that make lives safer for some victims. However, none are willing to take the responsibility for passing legislation that removes due process from both offenders and victims, silences the voices of victims and endangers the lives of many victims.
There are many who continue to believe that these mandatory domestic violence policies and practices are necessary, because if they save only one life the effort is worthwhile. What these very same people are unwilling or are unable to understand is the fact that this philosophic belief demands that they must also acknowledge that if these very same policies and practices take only one life, they are not worth the effort.
Are not the lives of those who may be harmed by mandatory domestic violence policies and practices as worthy as those who may be helped?