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Work hard, pray harder column: A month for reflection

Sarah Yacoub

Sarah Yacoub is an attorney at Equal Justice Inc.

As we head into October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it seems like as good a time as ever to talk about the effects of our local justice system on domestic abuse within our community.

The Center of Disease Control released a report in 2017 which concluded that domestic abuse is a major cause of death for women in this country. More than half of female homicide victims are killed in connection to intimate partner violence. It's time for a gut check moment as a community. It's time to look at ourselves and our systems and figure out how we're failing not just women and their orphaned children, but families and communities as a whole as the trauma of domestic abuse radiates well beyond the closed curtains of a home.

Gail J. Pincus, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Center in Van Nuys and an expert in domestic abuse, states that abusers are most afraid of three things: incarceration, getting caught and being left. Statistically, leaving the abuser is the most dangerous time for a domestic abuse victim. So how does our system play into this dynamic? The answer is failing to overcome the power dynamic between the abuser and the victim.

We are a justice system that undercharges attempted murder as strangulation or even disorderly conduct. We are a justice system that routinely sends dangerous abusers back into the community on signature bonds. We are a justice system that does not enforce bond conditions imposed by the court unless on the back of the victim. We are a system that lets dangerous abusers off with a fine and or probation.

Even though violating a bond condition is a crime against the state, the court, we are a justice system that will not take action unless the victim reports the violations to the police. Here is the problem: every time the victim calls the police and reports, she makes herself and her children less safe; every time the abuser goes to court, the abuser gets to review that which the victim told the police; every time the judge releases that abuser back into the community, even after the abuser demonstrates zero inclination to follow bond conditions, the victim and her children are in danger. Effectively, the abuser's small gestures of power demonstrate for the victim that the state, the judge, the district attorney can't and or won't stop him or protect her or her children. Effectively, our justice system communicates to victims that accountability rides on her shoulders alone and she knows first-hand that the abuser decides whether she and her children live or die. She's lived with the threats to burn the house down, she knows what it feels like to lose consciousness because he's once again strangling her while her children watch in horror. She also knows that if she repents, doesn't cooperate and helps get charges dismissed, if she takes him back, he'll beat her for her betrayal but she and her children will get to live.

If someone is on signature bond for drug dealing and the District Attorney and or police receive text message evidence that the drug dealer is selling or even possessing more drugs, they go out and investigate. They file the bail jumping. They don't tell the tipster to make a report or else it will be ignored. They seem to understand that witnesses who speak out are vulnerable to harm or retaliation. They take steps to protect their informant and protect their case.

And yet, with domestic abuse the status quo of our system, our approach, the way things have always been, leave victims alone in the cold. With domestic abuse, our current justice system does not protect informants and it does not protect the case. Why then is anyone surprised when the victim does not cooperate with prosecution? You've made it abundantly clear that you won't protect her or her children so she is left having to do what history has told her will keep her alive.