Do you remember Lorena Bobbit? I don’t really remember what that was truly about; I just remember the numerous jokes about it when it happened in the 90s and still hear them today. And, often I hear people in audiences where I’m speaking calling for the same thing as punishment for domestic violence.
I am not at all interested in chopping off any body parts as punishment for anything, but these comments have me wondering. What should be the punishment for domestic violence? What would inflict a sense of justice for the victims of domestic violence and improve a sense of accountability within our community? And, what needs to change to get us to this best punishment?
I believe the laws in our state against domestic violence are already written very well. I believe the system is set up, as well as it can be, to give space for victims to come forward. Yet, justice for victims seems unattainable. In our metro courts almost 90% of cases are dismissed. I hear our own prosecutors say that a first time offender would absolutely never get jail time in our courts no matter the scenario. And, victims are often unwilling to be part of the criminal prosecution process, with good reason.
The punishment that we extract for other crimes just doesn’t seem the right punishment for domestic violence. The victim and the offender are so closely linked that removing the offender from the community and the home holds too many variables for how that would punish the victim. An offender in jail cannot contribute financially to the household, take on portions of the home duties, share child raising responsibilities or any of the many other things that offenders contribute. Often, offenders are mandated to attend Batter’s Intervention Programs (BIP). While these offer a great learning opportunity for offenders’ to change their behavior, it doesn’t extract the punishment we expect to be in alignment with the crime.
I think the punishment needs to be something that truly rings of restitution. Victims should be given more of a place in our criminal justice system. Victims should be allowed to speak to the courts about punishments that would be helpful to them, that would feel like justice for them. They should be given a place in the court proceedings, not as a witness, but as a prosecuting party. Our laws are pretty good; our victim bill of rights should be given more teeth and placed at the center of our call for justice/punishment.