Imprisoning Victims Of Domestic Violence

Hi, PEEKers! This is Amanda Marcotte, adding in one of my own posts from today and reminding you that I'll be your guest blogger for the next two weeks.

I've been thinking a lot about this case where the Toronto cops have detained a pregnant 19-year-old to force her to testify against the man who beats her, because she's doing what all too many victims do, and changing her mind about pressing charges and trying to return home so her abuser can beat her more. There's no telling, I guess, what causes women to do this. It varies from woman to woman, I suppose. Some probably think that he's going to stop the beating. Some probably know he's going to keep doing it, but have been convinced, possibly by the abuser and relatives, that they don't deserve any better and that if they lose this man, they'll never get another. Some might be foolishly holding it together for the children, having been convinced by social conservatives that fathers are absolutely critical, even fathers who beat their girlfriends. Some might fear the abuser's retribution.

But I'm going to go against my instincts here and try to be sympathetic to the position the police are in, while not excusing this final decision. Feminists have long, and for good reason, accused the cops of being sexist pigs who don't take domestic violence seriously. We have our list of reasons that they're in the wrong: They think it's a private matter. They agree with the abusers that some women need to be beaten down. They don't like taking a woman's side against a man. All these criticisms are true, but we'd be intellectually dishonest if we didn't admit that the fact that women will often file charges and then retract them pretty much immediately contributes to the situation. It's much, much easier to dismiss a victim as hysterical when she's behaving like this.

Let's say a police force decides that feminist criticisms of the way police handle DV should be taken seriously. No more dismissing cases, no more laughing it off, no more driving the abuser across town and letting him sleep it off. Let's start putting abusers behind bars. Let's try to prevent DV situations from escalating into murders. Let's show the feminist community that we do take their complaints seriously and wish to treat women as equally worthy of protection by law enforcement. In that case, what do you do when the victims themselves refuse to let you take DV seriously? It's not hyperbolic to say that refusing to prosecute cases where victims are still in the thrall of their abusers will lead to significantly lowered conviction rates, which feminist activists will then point to as evidence that the cops don't care. A real rock and a hard place.

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