Friday, June 19, 2009

DC Sniper, cont.

One point that Ms. Muhammad drove home several times was that victims (male or female) often have no physical scars, and that law enforcement and the courts need to understand that fact. She also emphasized the need for victims, particularly those who don't experience a physical injury, to document everything (especially threats to kill, threats of suicide). Victims often need to file police reports and help law enforcement build a case that is sufficient to take to court. If someone else witnesses an assault (physical or verbal), or the abuser's behavior (e.g., banging on the victim's door at 3:00am, damaging property, etc.), the victim needs to provide that information to the LEO (law enforcement officer) and ask them to have the witness provide a written statement.

She also stressed the importance of being supportive when a victim discloses abuse. This applies to everyone, not just law enforcement officers. Ms. Muhammad shared that prior to their separation, she sought her brother's help after John threatened to kill her. Her brother minimized her concerns ("He didn't really say that, did he?") and she never went to him again for assistance. For law enforcement officers and front-line members of the System that deal with victims, their demeanor is crucial at these moments. Victims assess the level of concern shown by those they come into contact with, and their level of cooperation with prosecuting the offender is closely tied to the response that receive - particularly that first response. They are sizing you up, determining whether or not you're trustworthy.

A victim's demeanor after an assault doesn't fit into a nice, clean category. Some victims are terrified and shaking like a leaf. Some are hysterical and crying. Some are resigned and don't seem to care what happens. Some are belligerent with the person that's trying to help them. Anyone working with victims needs to toss out their preconceived notions of how the victim ought to behave, either in the immediate aftermath of an assault or in court. Because if they don't act the way we think they should act, we doubt the veracity of their allegations. If the perpetrator is calm, cool, and collected, they're considered more "believable" than the victim. Additionally, too many strangulation victims who fight back are arrested because they may have scratched their abuser and there are no marks on the victim.

Ultimately, Ms. Muhammad likened the situation for victims to fighting a war. She encourages them to not allow anyone to make them feel like it's their fault that they're a victim. Nobody volunteers to be a victim!

As a side note, one Orange County judge recently told a mother that "well, you married him!" when trying to convince the judge to protect her child from unsupervised visits with the father. This sort of remark, not to mention this sort of attitude, is unconscionable coming from a judge.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Blog.
    I totally agree "no one volunteers to be a victim"

    Many women in relationships do not know that their husband, their childrens father are going to be acting any other way than honorable and loving toward the family. So that was an unprofessional way for a judge to respond.