“Due process”…it sounds sensible based on our American ideals of fairness and justice. Due process is a constitutional right that applies in a court of law. It guarantees that a citizen has recourse when the government is pursuing charges against them. So, when there are allegations of abuse, due process in its true legal sense applies when police investigate and if criminal charges are brought. Due process is not intended to allow people outside of a criminal court to stick their head in the sand when serious and credible allegations of domestic violence come to light. This noble and important right does not mean the rest of us must remain silent in the face horrendous behavior.
The reality is, due process rarely applies because few domestic violence cases actually end up in a court room, and the ones that do are often pled down to lesser charges before trial. The reasons for that are many and complex (a topic for another article). Often victims are too afraid to come forward. Even in instances where police are called to respond to a DV situation (by victim or neighbors), a victim is still often hesitant to pursue legal recourse. The victim’s fears are not unjustified. They have learned that they frequently do not find justice in the court system. If there is uncertain justice to be found through the criminal justice system, it is an awfully big risk. They often suffer retaliation at the hands of their abuser. How many times do we hear stories of abusers violating restraining orders to harass, beat and even kill partners?
The reality is, when most people insist there should be “due process” in allegations of abuse, they aren’t referring to true legal meaning of that term. Rather, they either misunderstand the concept of due process or are attempting to protect the abuser and saying “you shouldn’t just believe the victim; you should give the accused the benefit of the doubt if he says he didn’t do it.” Many are careful not to malign the abuser and to accept his claims of innocence in the name of “due process” while the victim is scrutinized and discredited. We hear statements such as “someone’s life could be ruined by false allegations” even though it is rare for a victim to come forward with false claims. It is far more likely that domestic violence goes unreported.
“A life and career could be ruined…” A domestic violence victim has already suffered at the hands of her abuser; and when she comes forward, she risks having her reputation, life, and career ruined by being discredited, maligned, or dismissed. It is no wonder so many women don’t dare come forward. Victims of domestic violence suffer disproportionately from depression, suicidal thoughts, self-medicating w/ drugs and alcohol, diminished ability to function as a parent and at work, and in cases of physical abuse, continued injury and possibly death.
And what is the impact of gender in “due process?” It is true that men are sometimes victimized by female partners and domestic violence also occurs within same sex couples (the dynamics of control and abuse are the same regardless of the gender of victim or abuser). Most men never have an intimate partner capable of physically overpowering them. For most women, this is a constant reality. Unsurprisingly, violence against women at the hands of male partners occurs at significantly higher rates. Over the course of our history and still today, disrespecting, demeaning, and abusing women has been allowed. There is a forceful reaction to protect accused abusers who are most often male. We see this dynamic at work in front of our eyes and yet we as a society, have let this pervasive violence continue to exist.
We need to take a collective look in the mirror as a society and be honest about who is currently getting the benefit of the doubt. What happens when we live in a world where people who are abused emotionally and physically by their spouse or intimate partner are routinely dismissed, maligned and not believed? Where is their fairness and justice?
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Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center (DVCAC) is a community-based organization that offers many services to people who find themselves in abusive relationships as well as for the community who is trying to understand and identify the unsettling dynamics of family violence. Services at DVCAC include a lifesaving Helpline, emergency shelter, individual therapy, support groups, advocacy for victims engaged in the court process, and community education and prevention programs to stop cycles of abuse.
Visit www.dvcac.org to learn more about domestic violence and give our 24-hour Helpline to someone who may be in need. (216) 391-HELP (4357)