The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that every nine seconds, a woman is battered in the United States. In the CNMI alone, one-fourth of the criminal cases lodged in the court is about domestic violence.
With the increasing number of domestic violence cases in the Northern Marianas, law enforcers and prosecutors must make the criminal justice system work to restore the women’s faith in the system, according to Anne O’ Dell, STOP DV director in San Diego, California.
Ms. O’Dell is a retired police officer who has specialized on problems related to domestic violence during her 20-year of service in San Diego Police Department.
Speaking before police and probation officers during a comprehensive family violence training in the CNMI, Ms. O’Dell emphasized the need to help break the cycle of violence.
“It is absolutely fruitless to arrest someone on domestic violence and not sanction them when they continue to engage on that behavior,” she said. Often times, victims are frustrated because the batterers are not punished or even pushed to attend counseling or intervention program where they can learn new behaviors. Ms. O’Dell said anger management classes do not help batterers stop their behavior.
For many years, repeated arrest of the same offenders were commonplace but prosecution rarely proceeded. Even when charges were filed, they would later be dismissed or reduced when the victim recanted. The result of the inadequate handling of domestic violence cases was burnout, frustration, and victim blaming.
Police officers feel their efforts were wasted and many, throughout the system, saw the victim as the reason for the never-ending cycle of violence.
However, many areas in the United States have been slowly changing their approach in dealing with the issue of domestic violence. An effective way to deal with the problem is to create long-term accountability and treatment.
“Arrest them, send them to jail, make sure that the police collect the needed evidence, put them into probation and push them to attend battery intervention program,” she said.
Ms. O’Dell said police officers must always remember to make a report of every domestic violence case that they attend to because it will help the victim when she pursues the case against the abuser.
Failure to produce a report on each case that’s brought to them deprives the victim of their right to be constitutionally protected.
“She is no different to a robbery victim, a burglary victim or even an auto theft victim. Men should realize that is a crime to spit on their wives, punch or throw them down. This is not a social or communication problem. This is absolutely a crime, ” said Ms O’Dell.
When responding to domestic violence cases, police assume different roles: peacemaker, marriage counselor, mediator, separator. Unfortunately, these approaches have failed to provide any effective intervention with regard to the criminal conduct occurring at domestic violence incidents.
“Police have returned to the same homes time and time again and have eventually dealt with the next generation of batterers and victims. People continue to die in domestic violence homicides,” she added.
Until about 10 years ago, the prevailing belief was that this type of homicide was not preventable. Over the last few years, there are effective intervention strategies that law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals can use to both prevent domestic violence from recurring and/or escalating to homicide or homicide/suicide. “We are learning that there is much we can do to break the intergenerational cycle of violence,” Ms O’Dell said.