Victims Don’t Owe You Anything

by Cara on April 11, 2008

in human rights, International, misogyny, paternalism, patriarchy, pregnancy, reproductive justice, violence against women and girls

A woman is being held in jail as a means to force testimony against her domestic abuser.

It gets worse: she’s pregnant.

And worse: her lawyer says that she is due to deliver every day.

And horridly ironic: one of the charges against her boyfriend is forcible confinement.

The victim, whose name I don’t feel it is appropriate to use (and in any case have seen spelled in no less than four different ways), did indeed testify today. She has said that she wants to raise her baby with her boyfriend and then she made up a highly transparent story about how the abuse didn’t happen, despite the mountain of physical evidence to the contrary. She has also vowed to never call the police again.

There is absolutely nothing excusable about this situation. It’s an outright violation of human rights. The victim has apparently ignored supeonas and failed to show up in court. But that’s not even remotely a justification. If the victim does not want to testify, the answer is to find out why rather than throwing her in jail. And if efforts to change her mind fail, the perpetrator will either have to be prosecuted without her help or the charges will have to be dropped.

Yeah, it fucking sucks. I’d like domestic abusers in jail, too. But I don’t want them there at the expense of victim’s rights. There are many valid reasons why a woman would not want to testify. There are also rational reasons why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship. I don’t know what this victim’s reasons are. But I do know that the choice between living with an abuser or living on the street is not a choice at all, and under those circumstances, I truly don’t see how choosing to live with the abuser is necessarily and automatically a bad decision. And I don’t see how you and I have any right to judge.

Here is an explanation for the arrest:

But Susan Chapman, who spent 16 years as a Crown prosecutor and now teaches law, says sometimes Crown prosecutors are required to pursue domestic violence at the expense of a victim’s autonomy.

“The problem with autonomy is you’re giving the power over to the victim in the case in what is really a public prosecution,” she said. “And then you can make that woman vulnerable to intimidation and further abuse by the perpetrator.”

Bullshit. Straight up bullshit. First of all, no: you do not pursue domestic violence charges at the expense of a victim’s autonomy. You can pursue them against her wishes; you cannot pursue them if the only means for doing so violate her human rights. Secondly, there is absolutely no explanation as to how throwing her in jail makes her less vulnerable to intimidation and abuse. For one thing, she recanted her allegations on the witness stand — therefore she might still be intimidated and might still be going back into an abusive relationship. For another, throwing a woman in jail for refusing to testify in a domestic violence case is a form of intimidation and abuse. Only this time, it’s at the hands of the people who are supposed to be on her side, the people whose protection she will likely need again one day but will be too afraid to ask for. There’s also this often forgotten tidbit, that convinces many women to drop charges: testifying in court doesn’t guarantee a conviction. Testifying against an abuser in court while being uncertain that he will be convicted — and uncertain that if he is convicted, he will actually receive more than a slap on the wrist — doesn’t exactly make victims feel safe.

Commenters on that same article are vile. There are people saying that she “might be better off” in a jail cell. Guess what, fuckers? That’s no your choice, and it shouldn’t be the choice of the judge who put her there, either. And then you’ve got your standard disgusting tripe: people arguing that a woman has the responsibility to the rest of society to testify against her abuser, if she doesn’t she is being irresponsible, she should go to jail, and really she ought to “stop thinking of herself” (actual quote). Of course, this is the same exact group who call victims of domestic and sexual abuse liars out for revenge — I know from experience. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this MRA troll infestation.

In response to their arguments, I only have this to say: I want more violent criminals in jail. We all do. Is reporting and testifying in attempt to keep that abuser from harming someone else the right thing to do? Yes, it is. And so is having the gall after you’ve been abused to look out for your own ass. There is almost always more than one morally right thing to do. In this case, protecting yourself is absolutely on that list. How about we stop questioning whether or not the victim is doing the “right” thing, and start taking a look at the violent perpetrator, the one we know did something wrong?

More often than not, the men who are reported don’t go to jail. And it also seems that more often than not, women who take their cases to trial come out more traumatized than when they go in.

I don’t say that to discourage women from reporting. I say it because it’s the truth. I say it because fuck you to everyone who thinks that it’s not, or that if it is, it doesn’t matter. I say it because fuck you to everyone who thinks that a victim of sexual assault or intimate partner violence owes them something. I say it because fuck you to those who make this argument, it being their goal to put women on the witness stand as a way of putting them on trial. And fuck you to those who say that women should be forced to testify and then call abuse victims liars in the same goddamn breath.

Victims are not responsible to the rest of us for what they suffered. But we as a society do have a responsibility to them. And time and time again, we fail.

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{ 9 comments }

1 Cath April 11, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Thank you for saying this and saying it so well, Cara. I couldn’t even read through all of those comments.

2 corey April 12, 2008 at 12:34 am

Simply amazing. Today I heard the story of a formerly battered woman who had been convicted of felony embezzlement from her company (as her husband allowed her no access to money, of course). She said that when she went through the system as an accused (later convicted) felon people were understanding of her situation and treated her with respect, told her anyone can make a mistake, etc. When she went through the system as a victim of DV, she said it was the worst experience of her life. People treated her like a total idiot and were completely shitty and incredulous, judging everything she did. Unbelievable.

3 sbsanon April 12, 2008 at 12:45 am

Thanks for writing about this, Cara. I was outraged by the comments on the feministing post but I don’t think my one comment there came even close to expressing everything I think was wrong with them. You always put things in to words so well.

4 Alex April 12, 2008 at 7:42 am

Something that struck me about this case is how all week the local papers have been referring to the victim as a teen. Since she’s 19, that’s technically correct, although the age of majority in Ontario is 18 (except for alcohol and tobacco where it’s 19), so while she is a teen, she is also an adult. Interestingly enough, when a 17 year old and an 18 year old are charged or convicted of a crime, these same papers usually refer to them as a “17 year old child’ and an “18 year old adult.”

The only conclusion I’ve been able to draw is that this consistent reference to an adult as a teen is intended to infantilize her thus justifying the state’s big brotheresque behaviour.

5 Cobalt April 12, 2008 at 3:21 pm

WHAT

6 Paul April 13, 2008 at 12:08 am

It’s difficult in these kind of situations – there was a case of child abuse where the mother got the investigation dropped because the abusive father had promised to reform – after he later killed both the daughter and her, CPS said they shouldn’t have dropped it – “the child was the client, not the mother”.

7 Abbey April 13, 2008 at 8:46 am

I clicked the link to check out the argument on Feministing, and oh…my…god. So much drama. It’s really surprising (and a bit depressing) at the number of MRA members who felt it was their duty to repeatedly interrupt conversation on a feminist blog. How sad…and pathetic.

8 Cara April 13, 2008 at 10:15 am

Paul, I agree that in that situation the client should have been the child, not the mother. But I’m not really sure what it has to do with this case.

9 Daomadan April 14, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Thank you for addressing this Cara. As a survivor of DV I couldn’t even stomach reading any further in the feministing.com comment thread or where else this has been posted. Thank you for speaking up for victims and survivors of DV.

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