Women in the World

02.24.13

Domestic Abuse: The Crime That Crosses Class and Color Lines

Even when women won’t testify, we need to consider prosecutions when there is other sufficient evidence, writes attorney Rikki Klieman.

Now former WCBS anchorman Rob Morrison is finally out of his marital home this week, and his wife, Ashley, may be one of those women who is lucky to be alive. He allegedly had a long-term pattern of physically abusing his wife, who is a beautiful and intelligent television journalist. Merely a month before this incident, the police were called when he is said to have choked her until she almost passed out. However, she then decided to drop the January complaint, saying that she had exaggerated her accusations.

I certainly hope that Ashley, with support from family, friends, and counselors keeps Rob out of the house for good. Yet, I won’t be surprised if she, like so many other women, lets him back into her life.

Last month, Rihanna went to court, reunited with her battering boyfriend, Chris Brown, to support his claim that he completed his community service—which was put in place precisely because of the vicious beating he gave her on the night before the Grammys a few years ago. They are back together and smiling at the cameras again.

We remember Nicole Brown Simpson, who was beaten over and over again, before she was murdered. She left photographs and a diary as evidence and spoke as a voice from the grave.

Domestic abuse crosses all racial, ethnic, and economic boundaries. We read about it with sports figures with far too much regularity. Why do these women stay and endure so much violence from their men? When they finally complain to law enforcement authorities, they often recant, refusing to cooperate with the criminal justice system and actually protect their abusers rather than themselves. They regret the act of reporting at all. Collectively, we seem to have far more sympathy for women who have no way out because they are poor and literally cannot afford to get away. They won’t be able to care for their children or even have a place to live. They fear for their safety since abusers do come after their partners and may kill them when they leave.

Victims live in denial, blaming alcohol, drugs, or gambling—anything but their abusers.

We should have sympathy for all victims of domestic violence, rich or poor. These women do not like being beaten, and I literally recoil whenever I hear others blame them for staying. Their situations are complex and present a societal issue, not simply an emotional one. They literally cannot leave because they have been traumatized for months or years. They are completely vulnerable, having lost self-esteem even if they have successful employment or publicly appear as if everything is fine, particularly when both the man and the woman are otherwise reputable. Victims live in denial, blaming alcohol, drugs or gambling–anything but their abuser. Even if not in denial, they live in that deep valley of hope that things will get better, that they will work it out, that they can make things be what they were before, that he will change. They live cloaked in shame, feeling guilty that it is their own fault.

I prosecuted cases like these that opened my eyes to the problem. Then I sat on the Board of the Rape Treatment Center in Los Angeles and saw these women who just could not bring themselves to go forward. We cannot give up hope on any of these women. We must support and not condemn them if we are going to aid in breaking the cycle of violence. We need to think about swift and sure prosecutions even without the victim’s testimony if there is other sufficient evidence. Police need to photograph bruises, gather hospital records and obtain sworn or taped victims’ statements whenever possible. The criminal justice system must help these women even if they cannot help themselves. Violence against women is an epidemic, and just as doctors would not turn away from an outbreak of disease, neither should police, lawyers, and judges. With support and resources, we can help to save lives.