Meaningful Enforcement in the War Against Domestic Abuse

By Madeline Lee Bryer, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

*Trigger warning*

The war against domestic violence is heating up. In a decision released publicly on August 17, 2011, an international human rights tribunal has determined that the U.S. authorities paid insufficient attention to domestic violence and violence against women in violation of the nation’s human rights obligations. This ruling, the first ruling from an international tribunal on a U.S. domestic violence case, comes only days before an important domestic violence case is heard by New York State’s highest court.

The decision from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reviewed the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

The Supreme Court held that Jessica Gonzales, a domestic violence victim who had an order of protection against her husband, had no constitutional right to police protection or enforcement of her order of protection.

Gonzales had sued Castle Rock, Colorado, claiming that the police department ignored her pleas to arrest her husband for violating an order of protection. The police did nothing until her husband stormed the police station with a shotgun and started shooting. The police killed the husband. Unfortunately, he had already murdered their three daughters and their bodies were found in his truck.

After the Supreme Court ruled against Gonzales, advocates brought the case before the Inter-American Commission. Its just-released report found that “the State failed to act with due diligence to protect Jessica Lenahan [formerly Gonzales] and Leslie, Katheryn and Rebecca Gonzales from domestic violence, which violated the State’s obligation not to discriminate and to provide for equal protection before the law.” The ruling gives specific recommendations for changes in U.S. law and policy, including an investigation in systemic failures and legislative changes.

These findings, while not binding on U.S. courts, underscore the central issues in a similar case, Valdez v. City of New York, scheduled for a hearing on September 7, 2011 in New York’s highest court. In this case, Carmen Valdez, a woman living in the Bronx, called the domestic violence detective of the New York City Police Department on July 19, 1996 to tell him that she was going to her grandmother’s apartment with her two five-year old twin sons because her former boyfriend, Felix Perez, had threatened to kill her. The detective told her to stay in her apartment and that the police were going to immediately arrest the boyfriend for violating her order of protection. Valdez followed the detective’s direction and stayed in the apartment. The police, however, took no action. The next morning, as she took out the garbage, the boyfriend shot her three times in her face and arms before killing himself. This all took place in front of her two children. Valdez survived, but required extensive surgeries. She was left with permanent disabilities, and both she and the children to suffer ongoing psychological injuries.

Valdez and her children sued the City of New York, arguing that they were injured because they relied on the detective’s assurances. After a trial and jury award of damages to Valdez and her children, the city appealed. The first reviewing court ruled for the city and dismissed the case, stating that Valdez was not justified in relying on the detective’s promises because she had neither observed nor seen any evidence that the detective had taken action.

Ironically, while the New York appellate courts are deciding what liability, if any, the police have for failing to enforce orders of protection, other New York courts are issuing orders of protection in increasing numbers. According to the New York State Office of the Prevention of Domestic Violence, New York courts issued more than 200,000 orders of protection in 2009 and 2010 – significantly more than prior years. Victims are advised to notify the police if the order is violated. Victims are not told that they should not rely on what the police tell them or that they should not follow the directions that the police give them.

Read the rest here.

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17 Responses to Meaningful Enforcement in the War Against Domestic Abuse

  1. igglanova says:

    ‘Valdez was not justified in relying on the detective’s promises because she had neither observed nor seen any evidence that the detective had taken action.’

    What the fuck even is this. Oh sorry, you forgot to surveille the officer to make sure he was doing his fucking job even after he promised you he’d do it, case dismissed, lawl shoulda known better! Jesus fucking christ.

  2. William says:

    What these cases tell us is that you cannot trust the police, they are not here to help you, even if they are specifically tasked with cases just like yours you cannot rely on them to be truthful, you have no one but yourself. Meanwhile, a woman in New York City has just this side of a non-zero chance of getting a permit to carry a weapon to protect herself or her children. Because, you know, she might do something foolish. Unlike the police.

  3. BHuesca says:

    Wow. What the fucking crap. The police and the state failed these victims in so many ways and it is outrageous and I am pretty much at a loss for words because I have no idea what to do to prevent this.

    And the thing is that these victims “did everything right (by the law)”: called the police, utilized the court system, obtained restraining orders (which isn’t the cakewalk that many seem to believe). AND it doesn’t sound like those many cases one hears of where a victim obtains a restraining order and seems to expect four armed guards patrolling their home and property perimeter – they “get” that that their only (!) (crappy!!) option is to call the police if/when the abuser shows up.

    And then, the system failed them. Failed them spectacularly. Failed to enforce the law. Failed to protect them when their abusers violated their restraining orders. I’m not sure the state has the responsibility (or ability!) to prevent abuse in every single situation – but when notified via restraining order that the offender is Bad Business, then that responsibility does and should come into play. And the state shirked that responsibility. Shameful.

    But what can we do?

  4. mad the swine says:

    Wow. What the fucking crap. The police and the state failed these victims in so many ways and it is outrageous and I am pretty much at a loss for words because I have no idea what to do to prevent this

    Saying the police ‘failed’ gives them too much credit.

    United States police officers have a very simple priority list.

    1) protect themselves and maintain their privilege
    2) protect the persons and privilege of the elite (white male politicians, corporate bigwigs, and so forth)
    3) keep the boot on everyone else’s necks

    That’s it. That’s all they do. And nothing at all will change, no matter how much proles like us complain, because it has been affirmed by the Supreme Court time and again that police have no duty to protect civilians.

    In certain urban areas, where rates of domestic abuse are extremely high, and where chronic police abuse and corruption make police officers more dangerous to women than the abusers are, organizations have been formed to find non-violent, inclusive ways to control crime and abuse – even sexual violence – without involving the police or the courts. That’s what we need. Not ‘meaningful enforcement’. Working within the law enforcement system, imagining that better laws and better enforcement will protect women, is a ridiculous fantasy. The system exists to support the patriarchy, which is, by definition, the systematic abuse of women. It cannot be reformed. The very claim that ‘meaningful enforcement’ (by which, in practice, one means more police involvement in women’s lives) is capable of improving the situations of women simply emphasizes the naive privilege of the author.

  5. karak says:

    And then people wonder why so many abuse victims refuse to “just go to the police”.

  6. William says:

    And then people wonder why so many abuse victims refuse to “just go to the police”.

    *Trigger warning for sexual abuse, abuse of power, general lack of faith in humanity.

    Tiawanda Moore called the police on a domestic battery complaint. When they got there, the officer interviewing her fondled her and gave her his phone number. She knew this wrong wrong so she made a complaint about the officer. At some point Internal Affairs began to pressure her to drop her complaint, intimidated her, and gave her the run around. She decided to record one of these conversations.

    The police department had the findings of their internal investigation placed under a protective order and refuse to release anything. Ms Moore, on the other hand, was charged with felony eavesdropping for recording cops. She was recently acquitted, apparently through jury nullification, and the ACLU is challenging the wiretapping law she was charged under.

  7. llama says:

    Completely shameful, how can the police officers and judges involved in these cases live with themselves ? how can their wives and girl friends live with them ?

    I gotta stop reading this site it makes me angry and sad.

  8. Crumb Bum says:

    @mad the swine I was with you until you went ahead and assailed the sincerity of the author. Get real, dude.

  9. Glundank says:

    Christ. It’s getting harder and harder to even think of a solution when the problem is just so far ingrained into the system. The media has blacked out feminism, leaving a large amount of people to think we’re all a bunch of female bra-burning lesbians. This has led to a regression of all the work that has been done, meaning that misogynist cops can just do whatever the hell they feel like and misogynist jurors slut-shame any woman who dares bring her rape case to court.

    The problem is, this has gone on for so long that nothing short of the energy and publicity of the original waves of feminism can stop it. However, with the public seeing feminism as something that is ‘over’, it would be nigh-impossible to muster that.

    And so, the cops are left in a permanent state of power-binge-ing and thuggery. We can’t live with them, and we can’t live without them. I really just don’t know what to do.

  10. Politicalguineapig says:

    Madtheswine: Non violence cannot and will not change abusive behaviors, unless you’re talking about instituting some sort of public shaming ritual. Women need to be taught to fight back and to keep themselves safe by using non-firearm weapons (crossbows, knives, improvised weapons, setting tripwires etc.). The only way to stop an abuser is to give them a whipping to end all whippings or kill them. This is not the kind of thing that can be solved with a sit-down chat or a prayer circle.
    I do agree with you on the police though. They tend to be useless.

  11. Nyara says:

    I love how Valdez “wasn’t justified” in listening to the police. Of course, if she’d done anything else, it would have been “well, why didn’t you follow the directions you were given?”

  12. llama says:

    Politicalguineapig:
    The only way to stop an abuser is to give them a whipping to end all whippings or kill them.

    I disagree that the solution to violence is more violence, or even that beating the crap out of an abuser is going to dissuade them from abusing again.

    The police and courts need to understand that it is not only the law, but also a community expectation that domestic abuse not be tolerated.

    I can’t see why this has not happened yet. Women represent 50% or more of voters and surely the bulk of men would agree this needs action. So why haven’t we seen laws, education and enforcement programs that reflect the views of the bulk of the population?

    I am a man and really can’t see any benefit to me of letting this situation continue, it makes no sense.

  13. llama says:

    Politicalguineapig: Women need to be taught to fight back and to keep themselves safe by using non-firearm weapons (crossbows, knives, improvised weapons, setting tripwires etc.)

    I think it is sad that it has to come to anybody needing to carry weapons to protect themselves but if the police won’t protect women then perhaps it is necessary for them to be armed so they can protect themselves.

    It shouldn’t have any effect on law abiding men so why not?

  14. Sheelzebub says:

    None of this is at all shocking to me. Infuriating, but not shocking. I know a fair number of women who have been in abusive relationships. The cops don’t do much, the courts don’t do much, and people sit around with their thumbs up their asses whistling Dixie. If they are able to get away, their children are forced to see the abusive father who puts them through the wringer, and the abuser uses the court system to continue to fuck with his ex and the kids. The courts allow it all too often, and if the mother says anything about the fact that her ex is abusing the kids, she can be accused of trying to alienate the kids.

  15. Politicalguineapig says:

    llama: Men aren’t really interested in stopping domestic abuse, after all, it does benefit them somewhat. It allows men, even law-abiding men, to keep control in their homes. A lot of policemen are domestic abusers too, so why would they arrest a man for doing exactly what they do in their homes?
    Non violent approaches have been tried, and they don’t work. If the law won’t do anything, the only logical approach is to use the language of violence which is the only language abusive men understand.

  16. Avida Quesada says:

    This is totally stupid:
    “tating that Valdez was not justified in relying on the detective’s promises because she had neither observed nor seen any evidence that the detective had taken action.”
    If the detective did not take action that is “negligencia criminal” as we said in spanish (its like criminal negligence) follow the orders of police enforcement is the key. This is no wrong, and enervating.
    On the other hand:

    It shouldn’t have any effect on law abiding men so why not?

    I agree that this is a good option, but just to clarify. Men get abused all time by women. The only reason we get more into female victims are:

    1. We are feminists, by hart and training we care about women the most.

    2. Feminist toke the flag of domestic violence, by years even domestic violence in lesbian relationships were negated or minimized by our movement. Feminist lesbians fight like crazy by years to get the issue recognized. Last year lesbian domestic violence was an on MS magazine front page !!! (victory)

    3. Even if men get abused all time>/b>, women get abused even more, and children the worse. Even more: we are far more likely to get serious injury or dead. Some studies appear to point out that women are more likely to use weapons, but still less men need medical attention.

    4. What we need is let the women cary arms, but change the mentality that promotes that women never ever go to prison (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13666066), should get light sentences by presumption of mental issues (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/7995844/Judges-told-be-more-lenient-to-women-criminals.html) and the ones that promotes that violence by females agains males is ok (Catherine Kieu Becker on the on The Talk)

    Best regards,

    Avida

  17. William says:

    4. What we need is let the women cary arms, but change the mentality that promotes that women never ever go to prison

    Can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the US 38 state have “shall issue” carry laws and the other 11 have some sort of carry scheme. Only Illinois completely forbids the carrying of concealed firearms by private citizens.

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