This is a letter written to Texas legislators demanding change.
|This letter is written on behalf of every victim wronged by the state and more importantly, for those who have yet to be wronged. This letter is for the 1 in 3 Texans who is abused by their spouse/partner in their lifetime. (Statistic is courtesy of the TCFV.)
I am personally disgusted and more so, disheartened by the current state of our court system when it comes to family violence cases. Yes, over the past decade, there has been a much needed push towards these heinous offenses. However, as a society, we have a long way to go before a difference can truly be made, much less felt by its community members.
Naïve and idealistic I am not; the system will never be “perfect”. However, too many abusers, too many times, are given a clear and distinct message: It is okay to abuse your partner. This message is what I find horrendously deplorable. This message is given every day; it is spoken by a society who sees the violence and remains silent. It is given by the police when they negligently handle domestic violence calls. And it is given by a court system, who (in rare instances a case reaches that far), sees the damning evidence and yet cannot be bothered to serve in the best interests of the victims.
Now that I have your attention on my platform, let me introduce myself: I am a sworn peace officer for the state of Texas. I am also a family violence statistic. I am, even before my own devastating experience, an advocate in seeing a brighter future for family violence victims.
Are you not aware that strangulation is the last act of violence before homicide in family violence cases? Are you not aware of the serious medical issues that coincide with strangulation victims? Victims can suffer permanent brain damage, lapse into comas, suffer aneurisms, among other neurological and physical symptoms.
Are you aware that most abusers have what psychologists consider to be narcissistic personality disorders? Forcing an abuser with this personality to attend a batterer’s program only inconveniences the abuser; it strengthens their resolve to avoid being caught the next time. And there will always be a next time. Why? Because of the message we provide as a society. Society places the blame and the toll of responsibility upon the victims. It chooses to ignore the idea that perhaps it needs to teach its potential abusers not to abuse. The system echoes this sentiment.
This state has undertaken numerous steps to show that it is “tough on family violence crimes.” The state, however, is not following through on its promise. Currently, an affirmative finding is one of the legal options used in court proceedings, especially for first time offenders. Let me be clear: it is highly unlikely that this is the defendant’s first time committing the offense of family violence. Do not delude yourselves that it will be their last. Abusers are similar to sexual predators in this manner.
An affirmative finding is an option that no place in the penalty phase of family violence cases. None. It is a get out of jail free card for batterers. It is society telling victims it does not care about them. It tells its abusers “It’s okay. We are only going to waste a little bit of your time and money because we don’t think you are a bad person.” Why not go ahead and add the codicil: “Just don’t get caught doing it again.”
As a police officer I see many cases get shoved underneath piles of other cases. My own experience was an even greater disappointment. I was betrayed. My abuser was someone who began his assaults verbally and then suddenly escalated straight to strangulation. There was no buildup of violence, as is the (I hate to use the word) norm in abuse cases. I provided the police and the DA office evidence of his drug and alcohol abuse, his prior assaults on me (though I never made any official reports of those). I provided written threats of blackmail and retaliation against me and my mother. He assaulted my mother as well. And her case was never taken up, despite family violence laws. No written statements or follow-up photographs or follow-ups regardless were ever made. I was assured by the DA system that this case would be taken seriously because of all of these factors. Yet, my abuser was given a proverbial slap on the wrists he used to strangle two people with. The reasoning was because he had no documented record. I am appalled. This particular abuser will not take his delicate, sensitive warning and stop. Remember that statistic about strangulation occurring before homicide? This is the message. This is the wrong message.
It is my deepest belief to see this message eliminated from the court system. A few abusers may learn. A few may stop. A few may get the sentence they deserve. How many more deaths and ruined lives must we as a society endure before it is enough? Affirmative findings only succeed in victimizing its abused further. A victim is expected to move on after being told that their abuser was not punished for the crime. Justice is not served for these victims. Nor is it served for the abusers. When affirmative findings are doled out, the only thing that happens is the tax payers have wasted their money on wasted court time and costs. An affirmative finding tells everyone that the state recognizes the fact that abuse occurred, but that no action will be taken against the crime or abuser. This is uneconomical in every manner imaginable.
This “tough on family violence” campaign needs to do one of two things: actually show its intent to fulfill this promise, or stop lying to its victims. The message needs to be changed. And it needs to be changed now. Victims will not risk reporting the abuse when they see the results. They will remain silent. Society will remain silent and continue to blame the victims. The message needs to be changed before the silence becomes permanent.