October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time set aside to raise awareness of those impacted by abuse in the home, and to learn about ways to help and support victims. However, one Florida judge decided to go in the opposite direction when she placed a domestic violence victim in jail for refusing to testify against her abuser in court.
In April, an unidentified woman called the police after the father of her children choked her and grabbed a kitchen knife. The state was pushing for a conviction against the man, who had a previous domestic violence charge against him. However, according to a state’s victim advocate, the woman was afraid of testifying against her abuser, and felt that she would rather just drop the charges and move on with her life. However, despite her fear and anxiety over testifying in court, she was still called in, but never showed.
During the woman’s contempt of court hearing, Seminole County Judge Jerri Collins showed absolutely no sympathy for the woman. The following is only a part of the exchange between her and the Judge:
“You need to tell the court why I should not hold you in contempt of court. I can sentence you to jail,” Judge Jerri Collins said.
“I just… Things were…” the sobbing woman said.
“Why didn’t you show up to court?” Collins asked.
“I’m just, my anxiety, and I’m just…” the woman replied.
“You think you’re going to have anxiety now? You haven’t even seen anxiety,” Collins told the woman.
“I know,” the woman said.
The judge berates the abuse victim until she is sobbing. The video that captured it all is absolutely appalling and shows exactly how not to treat somebody who is a victim of abuse.
While in an ideal world, domestic violence abusers would all be caught and sentenced with the assistance of their victim or victims, reality doesn’t operate that way. Some abuse victims may be too scared to face their attackers, while others have PTSD or severe anxiety that would prevent them from being able to properly testify.
While the judge clearly wants to do the right thing and put the abuser in jail, she is going about it the wrong way. There is absolutely no benefit to berating and shaming someone who has already been through so much. While the judge was within the right, legally, it was still simply not the right thing to do. You should not be able to jail someone because they are too afraid to face their attacker in court. You get creative and find another way to have them testify, because abuse survivors should not have to be coerced into facing their attacker if they don’t want to.
The actions of the judge may end up making things worse for those impacted by domestic violence. If other victims see this sort of treatment, they may be more unwilling to report domestic abuse. And, considering the fact that most domestic violence incidents are never reported, we should be doing all we can to support victims, not frighten them. We definitely do not want to discourage victims from seeking help, but when a judge punishes the victim, like in this case, what trust in the justice system can other victims have? In the end, the victim spent three days in jail for contempt of court while her abuser only spent 16 days for simple battery.
If you or somebody you know is experiencing domestic violence, please reach out to the Domestic Violence Hotline.
More: Domestic violence: Lending a helping hand