Married to a controlling, abusive, man, she spent many days trying to hide the abuse she suffered at his hands. In an effort to drown her dismay, she drank. Excessive drinking had led to her current situation. Here she was, in front of a Judge, begging for mercy and understanding. As she stood there hoping the Judge would understand, she could not remember the events that led to this moment. Nevertheless, the reality was, everything pointed to her vehicle accidentally hitting the young girl as she was walking down the street. Fortunately, the young girl, although seriously injured, survived.
As a single mother, a trial would be too risky. And, if she did in fact commit this act, a plea was the best resolution to the case. So, we stood there, entered a plea of guilty, and waited. Waited for an opportunity to give this Judge a full picture of who my client was, and, how this had come to be. Following the prosecutors recitation of the facts, the Judge began to question the injured young girl and her grandmother. When the questioning began, I felt all hope leave my body. I had been in this Judge’s courtroom enough to understand when his goal was to elicit responses to justify the punishment he intended to impose. And, this time was no different.
By the time he turned his attention to us, his decision was made. And, there was absolutely nothing I could say to change his mind. Nevertheless, my continued belief in humanity, forced me to try. Maybe, just maybe, this would be the time that I was able to say something that made this Judge consider my client, and her circumstance, before sentencing her.
I quickly began to explain how my client’s life was in a downward spiral when these events occurred. Here was a woman that found herself married to a man that had no problems punching her in the face, kicking her, and pulling her hair from her scalp whenever he became angered. In fact, as she stood before this Judge waiting to see what her fate would be, her husband had a pending assault charge which stemmed from one of his uncontrollable rages against the woman he once vowed to love. Doubting if anyone would believe her, she came equipped with the pictures in order to prove the damage imposed at his hand.
Despite her inability to escape at the time, as she stood before the Judge waiting to be sentenced, she could proudly say that she had been able to break the cycle of abuse and turn her life around. Since leaving her husband she no longer sought solace in drinking. She exhibited a certain level of confidence that was not present when she first walked into my office seeking representation. She had turned in her victim cloak for a survivor cape.
Feeling as though I was advocating on my own behalf, I was enthralled in my passionate plea for mercy when the Judge interrupted me and bluntly said,
She could have left. Ms. Ruffin, she could have left. Domestic violence is no excuse for her actions.
Feeling the heat rise in my face, I stood there disappointed and angry, knowing that I had failed at changing this Judge’s ignorant mindset. His nonchalant attitude toward all of the strides that she had taken since that fateful day felt like a slap in the face. In his genteel, elitist mind, it was simple. If you are physically abused, you leave immediately. Bottom line. And, if you didn’t leave immediately, you should not expect anyone to understand your plight. Despite the numerous studies, he sat on the bench, looking down on my client and imposed a punishment, without giving any consideration to her experience, and, the impact it had on her psyche. And, while we were devastated to hear that she had to go to prison for six months, we were more devastated about his dismissive attitude toward the effect that domestic violence had on her.
When did our society become so cold that we no longer sympathized with victims of domestic violence? When did our mindset shift so that women that fell prey to abuse by a lover were seen as villains? Could the fact that domestic violence is primarily a crime against women have something to do with the shift in mindset?
We definitely appear to be less sympathetic toward women that are abused. What do you think has contributed to this shift?
It is my hope that this blog post will start a meaningful dialogue on this issue.