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Why Domestic Violence Laws Are Ineffective

Updated on January 5, 2015

What's More Important?

Safety or justice? One would think that the two go hand in hand, but not always. Of all crimes, domestic violence has the highest repeat rate, especially in the first few weeks after an incident is reported to the police (Davis & Maxwell, 2002). Think about that, now. That means that someone who has been beaten, punched, smacked, choked, or otherwise attacked by a loved one and then reports it to the police usually gets assaulted again within a few weeks. Many victims instinctively recognize the danger in going to the police, knowing that their oppressor will recognize the attempt to find escape and relief and will then act to tighten their hold of control.

More than anything, a victim of domestic violence wants to avoid making their abuser angry. In a relationship where abuse has become physical, the victim has already submitted to more coercive forms of control and has been manipulated into believing any problems in the relationship are the result of their inability to please their partner.

Typically, the relationship starts with an outpouring of love and affection, creating a sense of absolute bliss and happiness. A bond is formed and the relationship feels like it came straight out of a fairy tale. So, when things start to go wrong, the victim naturally becomes confused, and that confusion makes them an easy target for manipulation. Gradually, the victim is made to feel guilty for spending time with other friends, not relinquishing control of the finances, speaking with members of the opposite sex on the phone, failing to show trust in sharing passwords to email and social media sites, etc.

As control is increasingly handed over to the abuser, the tactics are kicked up a notch with intimidation buying even more control. Eventually, it seems impossible to distinguish the slippery slope from a relationship that seemed to come out of a story book to one now ruled by a sense of dread and fear. The first time a victim is physically hurt, they rarely report it to anyone, convinced it was some kind of accident. As the frequency of physical assaults increases, the level of fear becomes insurmountable.

Often, the first call to police is made by a concerned neighbor who hears crashing or screaming coming from an adjoining apartment. Unless the police witness the violence, no arrest is made without the victim telling the police that their loved one harmed them. Even when an arrest is made, the assailant is typically only held for one or two nights before being released to return home. This increases a sense of helplessness, as the arrival of the police provides a temporary reprieve but does not put any end to the now constant state of fear.

When the victim decides it is time to put an end to the relationship, they are often at a loss for how to regain control of their own lives. Simply telling the abuser they want to call it quits could set off another spout of violence. And getting a restraining order, while sometimes effective, is often the cause of an escalation - even, in some cases, murder according to threat assessment specialist Gavin de Becker. (The Gift of Fear)

Pursuing a domestic violence charge would provide justice, given the victim can provide enough physical evidence to convict their abuser AND has enough money to hire a good lawyer. However, with or without a restraining order, the abuser can typically make bail during court proceedings and is left free to hound their victim back into submission. Even if the court case is followed through to completion and the abuser is found guilty, most domestic violence cases only qualify as a misdemeanor and the convict will only have a short prison visit subject to probation. As soon as the abuser is released, the victim is once again subject to harassment.

It Rarely Stops

Shelters and Hotlines

When a victim realizes a need to escape, their best route is usually calling a hotline and seeking out a shelter. Experts and volunteers who've experienced abuse themselves help victims develop safe escape plans, places to run, basic necessities, therapy, and even assistance in finding jobs, child care, transportation, and down payments on an apartment. While police do assist and victims are sometimes counseled to get restraining orders or pursue charges, the number one priority is safety, and maintaining that safety OFTEN means forgoing criminal charges.

Unfortunately, this leaves assailants free to weave their trap for another victim, but when pursuing charges typically results in more violence and frighteningly often the death of the victim, justice seems far less important. An enormous number of domestic violence cases never get reported to the police, because victims take it into their own hands to protect their safety, and pursuing criminal charges will only put them back in the path of harm.


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