Our American Justice System: Equal and Fair?
Submitted by Anonymous
I worked as a domestic violence advocate for a Midwest domestic violence shelter for about five years. This article and my other (“Inside Story: Domestic Violence Shelters“) are based upon my education in the field of criminal justice and domestic violence as well as personal experiences I encountered during my employment.
I truly believe that the United States legal/justice system is the best possible compared to all others in the world at this time.
Does this mean it is perfect? No, not by any stretch of the imagination, which is why it is in a constant state of change and revision.
One area that I believe is long overdue for revision is the area of domestic violence legislation and practices.
Domestic Violence Laws
Again, I believe that all legislation related to domestic violence was enacted for honest reasons – to protect victims of domestic abuse. Each new addition to the legislation was enacted to attempt to correct areas that were found to be deficient.
For example, creating legislation requiring that persons found guilty of domestic violence are not allowed to be in possession of firearms was enacted in the hope that it would prevent other injuries and deaths.
However, one unexpected outcome has been that many women will not pursue domestic violence claims because their perpetrator needs or wants to keep their weapons because their weapon is needed for their employment (e.g., a security guard) or because they are hunters.
In some areas of the United States, believe it or not, families rely on hunting and gardening for their very survival. Even when it is not a case of survival, many “perpetrators” are avid hunters and the pressure can be very great for the accuser to back down from her accusations so that the other person can continue in their sport of hunting.
Another unexpected outcome of domestic violence legislation is that the governing bodies who are responsible for ensuring that domestic violence shelters and advocates maintain their licensing have quite a bit of power to make and enforce rules and regulations.
This in essence means that a few people have a great deal of power to impose their beliefs on all others in the domestic violence field and to force them to act according to their personal philosophies, whether those ideas have any basis in empirically tested literature or not.
For example, in our shelter we were not allowed to set goals for our clients or to hold them accountable for refusing to work towards independence. Essentially this policy was based in the beliefs held by the ruling body that held the purse strings for our shelter.
They believed that these victims had, because of their abuse, not been allowed to be independent and were completely controlled by their abuser. Therefore, for us to set goals for them and expect them to work towards them was essentially us taking the place of their abuser and “revictimizing” them.
I believe that most people would agree that every responsible adult is held to goals and standards set by others nearly every day of their lives. We all must adhere to goals set by our employers, standards set by our landlords, societal expectations, etc. We understand that if we are not financially independent due to a sizeable inheritance or if we do not get up and go to work and perform to a certain standard, then we will lose our job, car, house, and self-esteem.
Yet somehow, these domestic violence victims are placed in an unrealistic category whereby they are not expected to behave according to normal adult standards of caring for themselves and their children, and that this will somehow create an environment whereby they will become independent, self-sufficient, and empowered.
Domestic Violence Shelters Funding
Requirements and regulations imposed on domestic violence shelters can come from their governing agencies, be state based, or they can come through grants that a shelter may receive.
If a shelter accepts a grant, it may mean that the shelter must abide by certain requirements – such as requiring a shelter to employ one or more court advocates, requiring that a shelter conduct a certain number of hours each month in pubic awareness activities, or that a shelter not provide service to persons who are incarcerated.
If a shelter accepts federal assistance, such as through food program reimbursements, there are requirements that must be met, such as what types of food can be served in a shelter and whose meals qualify for reimbursement.
Sometimes these requirements can be contradictory, thus, shelters will fudge their documentation to stay within the requirements of various regulations. For example, staff wages may be paid out of two or more different funding accounts, so that if one grant states that the funds may not be used to counsel domestic violence victims who are incarcerated, then an advocate may state they are paid 25% of their wages from that fund, and 75% from another fund, and the fund that does not have that restriction pays for their time spent counseling in a local prison.
Benefits To Alleging Domestic Violence
What can all this mean for those accused of domestic violence? It means that the alleged victim will be able to receive – before and after accusations of domestic violence – free emotional and psychological counseling and free legal assistance.
The person accused of abusive behavior will often be required to attend domestic violence counseling, but they will have to pay for those sessions, which can total thousands of dollars. Also, legally they are at a disadvantage.
Since shelters are required to conduct a certain number of hours in public awareness education, they often have close ties to all manner of social and educational groups in a community. Often they conduct professional trainings for emergency and justice personnel.
This is meant to be a positive thing – just like those who work to prevent child abuse train hospital and school personnel on the signs of abuse to protect children. However, often when one is looking for something, they will see it everywhere. This problem is compounded if laws are enacted requiring police officers to make an arrest in domestic violence incidents or required to counsel the “victim” about the services of the local shelter.
If a community is looking for signs of domestic violence and are encouraged to advertise the services of the local domestic violence shelter, then many persons who believe they can use the services of the shelter for free will suddenly become victims of domestic violence.
They are educated on what to say to present themselves as victims, and the community workers who are encouraged to increase the number of persons they can count as victims they’ve assisted will also encourage the idea these persons are indeed victims of abuse.
In addition, once the alleged victim has made that initial contact with the shelter, they have access to free court advocates and free case workers, who will generally assist them in obtaining domestic violence orders, assist them in moving to the front of the line in obtaining income-based housing, in obtaining funding reserved for domestic violence victims so that they may start their own business (along with access to a free advisor), or continue their further education.
Meanwhile, the accused does not have access to any type of free legal advice on fighting the accusation of domestic violence. If children are involved, the alleged victim will again usually have access to free legal advice to assist in gaining custody of the child(ren) as well as legal advice regarding divorce or separation. The accused will generally have to do without representation or find the funds to pay for it.
I believe that victims of crime should be assisted and protected. However, these resources are available to the alleged victim well before anyone is found “guilty” of abuse. This appears to stack the chips well in favor of one side over the other, which goes against the philosophy of our justice system.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or need to file a restraining order against an abusive family member, contact the men’s rights attorneys of Cordell & Cordell.