I think that most prosecutors and judges would agree with me when I say that domestic violence is one of the top problems that we face as a society. Perhaps it is number.
Domestic violence is also not an uncommon occurrence. In the practice of law, I represent defendants accused of domestic violence and see court dockets across west Georgia full of these type cases. Because these cases are unique, I have seen the different aspects of domestic violence. I am also a citizen who cares about addressing this difficult issue in my community.
When I was a young boy, my grandfather told me never to hit a girl under any circumstances. While I did not take all of the advice he offered about life, I did take this to heart. There is no excuse for a man to ever hit a woman. The same is true for women hitting men. (Yes, this sometimes happens as well.)
Also, I want to be clear on one point. Just as in any case, there are defendants who are not guilty of domestic violence even though they have been accused. These defendants should have their cases dismissed.
However, the focus of this column is on the many cases where domestic violence has actually occurred. These are the tough cases. They are also much more complicated than one person hitting another in the home.
It seems that where allegations of domestic violence occur, the worlds of criminal law and family law merge. Domestic violence cases are prosecuted in the criminal courts in Georgia. However, they are also handled in civil type hearings where the judge can issue a protective order if he or she finds that the victim needs protection from the accused perpetrator of the domestic violence. Violation of these protective orders can and often do lead to serious criminal sanctions such as charges of aggravated stalking.
One of the biggest problems in domestic cases is when a victim recants his or her statements to 911 or a law enforcement officer. When this happens, it puts police officers in very difficult situations. I have seen many cases where a desperate 911 call is made, officers show up at the house, and find the victim saying that nothing happened, or make up something like falling down the stairs. Add alcohol into this circumstance and you have a situation where the police officer must make a difficult decision. Should there be an arrest? If so, who needs to be arrested? Should both people be arrested? What will happen in court when the victim says “nothing happened?”
Prosecutors are put into a bad situation too. Sometimes they have a victim who does not want to testify or wants to testify about facts that are in conflict with the 911 call.
True victims recant in domestic violence cases for a number of reasons. They include, but are not limited to: 1. Fear of the loss of income if the defendant/husband goes to jail or prison; 2. Outright fear that the defendant/husband will become violent again; 3. Embarrassment; 4. Love for the defendant/husband. The victim may want to reconcile the relationship; and perhaps the worst reason of all; 5. An acceptable culture of living in a home where domestic violence is common and tolerated.
While a prosecutor can now compel a victim of domestic violence to testify, this is the least desirable way for a prosecutor to seek justice in a case.
Are there ways for our community to decrease violence in homes? I don’t know. Punishing guilty defendants with jail and prison is a very good short term answer. If the violent perpetrator is incarcerated, he or she cannot possibly harm the victim. The problem with stopping here is that in the matter of weeks, months, or years the perpetrator will be released back into the community. He or she will likely have the same violent pattern of conduct as before.
There is an additional approach that may need to be looked at. While this will not “fix” every person who has committed an act of family violence, I would like to see the General Assembly modify the domestic violence statutes to require people convicted of domestic violence undergo a mental health evaluation by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. The perpetrator would also be mandated to follow through with the treatment recommendations of the doctor. I think that adding this to Georgia law would at least put a dent in the problem.
Lastly, our communities need to support resources for victims of domestic violence. The Women’s Shelter, Rape Crisis Center, and victim advocates in the DA’s officer and Solicitor General’s office are just to name a few. Give these organizations your support whether it be financial or otherwise.
I would ask you to pray for the west Georgia community. Pray that our leaders, policy makers, and legislators will come up with ideas and implement these ideas to cut down on the number of domestic violence cases. More just needs to be done.