the United States, and increasingly in other countries,
there is a solid body of well tailored law which gives criminal
justice officials immense powers and authority to intervene
effectively in most all cases of violence against women,
including in most cases where the victim is too fearful
problem that remains is the continued unwillingness of so
many criminal justice officials to implement these powers
on behalf of victims of violence against women. It's an
unwillingness that officials have increasingly concealed
from the public behind an elaborate showcase of violence
against women programs and rhetoric. And it's an unwillingness
that is unchecked by any legal or social controls.
Though most police,
prosecutors, and probation departments have developed modern
rhetoric, written policies, and all manner of task forces
and programs targeting violence against women, the realities
of their day-to-day responses to victims of violence against
women and children remains woefully inadequate and steeped
in sexist and racist denial of justice. To be sure, there
are individuals and units throughout the system that are
progressive and willing to use their powers on behalf of
women. These individuals and units can be used to great
advantage by victims and their advocates in moving the system
much of this progress is undermined by large numbers of
criminal justice officials who are actively bucking these
changes. The more progress is made on the one hand, the
more sophisticated become the tactics used by reactionary
officials to dump women and their cases out of the system.
Many officials are so resentful of new policies telling
them to treat violence against women seriously that they
actively sabotage the cases, the policies, and the victims.
the criminal justice system as a whole shows little tendency
to discipline these officials, or to bring them into line.
The persistent hyper-male culture of law enforcement, in
fact, is much more likely to protect and cover for these
individuals than to punish. Officials who harbor and practice
hostility towards women are still broadly tolerated throughout
the criminal justice system. In fact, as we'll show later
on, examples are commonplace of law enforcement agencies
wholesale protecting rapists and batterers within their
own ranks. The overall criminal justice system continues
to collaborate with perpetrators who reside both inside
and outside the system.
But it's not
just the law enforcement/perpetrators who respond poorly
to violence against women. Studies are beginning to reveal
just how systematically police and prosecutors in general
continue to withhold their powers from victims of violence
* In the year
2000 an investigative reporter on the Philadelphia Inquirer
exposed that the Philadelphia Police Department was dumping
over 400 rape reports every year simply by wrongly filing
the rapes under a minor "2701" call for service
category. This categorization virtually guaranteed these
cases wouldn't be investigated properly or taken seriously.
Following the extensive coverage of irrefutable evidence
exposed by the press, the Philadelphia Police finally
admitted that this, indeed, was exactly what they were
for wholesale dumping rape cases have been uncovered by
journalists in numerous cities around the country. The Phoenix
sex crimes units took rape reports on an "information
only" form as their means of burying rape cases. Many
police departments dispose of the large volume of their
rape cases by routinely labeling rape reports as 'unfounded'
or as a 'he said, she said' before any investigation is
* A year 2002
Washington State Domestic Violence Death Review (and Women's
Justice Center's and Purple Berets' reviews of domestic
violence homicides) reveals what the Washington State
authors so aptly name "the meaningless processing
of cases", a term they apply to the pattern of criminal
justice officials moving the domestic violence cases through
the system all the while withholding adequate application
of real powers to the case. It's a dynamic that often
is repeated again and again until finally the woman is
murdered. Instead of summarily dumping the cases, as was
the practice decades ago, officials go through the motions
without ever taking serious action against the perpetrator.
It's worth pointing
out that this "meaningless processing of cases"
is not just run-of-the-mill bureaucratic malaise. It's purposeful
slight-of-hand. The "meaningless processing of cases"
is just one of the many cloaks of camouflage used by the
criminal justice system in response to the public pressure
of the last couple decades that law enforcement deal seriously
with violence against women. Instead of abiding by the public
and legislative will and implementing real power on behalf
of women, law enforcement has created these cloaks of camouflage
to chump the public into believing the job is being done
while continuing to abandon women to the violence. As the
criminal justice system gets ever slicker at hiding their
denial of protection and justice, advocates need to heighten
their watch dog skills.
* A year 2002
survey of 63 domestic violence victims carried out by
Santa Rosa Police Department found that a significant
number of responding officers were failing to carry out
even the most fundamental requirements of victim protection
and the most basic level of evidence gathering essential
for prosecuting the cases. This despite ten years of constant
community pressure on police to handle domestic violence
In 33% of cases
victims were not asked about the presence of firearms. In
nearly 50% of cases where visible injuries were present,
photographs weren't taken. In more than 50% of cases where
children were present, officers didn't take a statement
from children. In 27% of cases, the officer didn't ask the
history of abuse. In no case in which the victim felt she
needed a translator did the officer provide one. In at least
30% of cases where visible injuries were present, officers
didn't make arrests as required by agency policy.
This victim survey reveals details of "the meaningless
processing of cases' phenomena named in the Washington State
report above. But even this Santa Rosa study fails to show
the full picture of responding officer misconduct. The victim
sample for the study was chosen from domestic violence cases
in which the officer had written a crime report. So the
study fails to capture the many cases we see in which officers
simply walk away from legitimate domestic violence crimes
without writing any report at all. Nor is it the seriousness
of the case which determines the seriousness of officer
response. In our experience, whether or not a case gets
handled properly has more to do with which individual officer
responds rather than with the seriousness of the case.
* In the year
2000, television news videos of the mass sexual assaults
following the Puerto Rican parade in New York City caught
police in the act. Police literally folded their arms
and turned their backs on women, even as the women were
being sexually assaulted right in front of their eyes.
Even as women begged the police for help. One officer
responded to a victim's desperate pleas for help by adding
insult to injury and telling her in his most contemptful
voice, "Go back to New Jersey."
Details of Law Enforcement Denial of Equal Protection and
Justice to Victims of Violence Against Women. Because
law enforcement denial of justice is largely invisible to
the public, by far the most revealing window of all on law
enforcement mishandling of violence against women is the
window that's open to you, the advocate. If you work with
victims, and if you're vigilant about watch-dogging your
clients' criminal justice cases, you already know what law
enforcement mishandling of violence against women looks
like. But just for the record, here's a short list of the
daily abuses by which the criminal justice system demeans,
deceives, diminishes, and eventually denies implementing
essential powers to victims of violence against women. You
likely can add your own examples as you read this.
List of Law Enforcement Abuses: Disinterested/abusive/racist
and sexist/off-putting/uncaring/discouraging/or aloof attitudes
by officials, failure to write reports, incomplete reports,
biased reports, falsified reports, incomplete investigations,
failure to gather all the evidence, failure to document
all the evidence, failure to identify and address victim
fears, purposely scaring the victim out of making a report...
and witness interviews, hostile victim or witness interviews,
failure to interview all witnesses, interrogating victims
or witnesses, interviewing victims and witnesses in front
of the perpetrator, insinuating victim culpability, showing
disbelief of victims or witnesses, purposely shaming or
embarrassing victims or witnesses, mocking victims or witnesses,
threatening to accuse or accusing the victim of unrelated
crimes, failure to ask key questions, failure to provide
proper translation, etc.
victims' support persons, attempting to separate victims
and her support, discouraging victim from obtaining an advocate,
failure to inform victim of her right to an advocate, ignoring
victim or witness safety, mocking victim fears, showing
support for the suspect, laughing with the suspect, failing
to arrest the perpetrator, arresting the victim.
to the victim that there's nothing that can be done when,
in fact, there is clear justification for action, misinforming
the victim about her rights, lying to the victim about the
viability of the case, lying to the victim about the law,
failing to return, or long delays in returning, victim phone
calls, failure to inform victims of what happens next, passively
allowing victims to fall through the cracks...
Failure to properly
prepare victim for hearings, failure to file adequate charges,
failure to file any charges, dissuading the victim from
testifying, scaring the victim with possible defense tactics,
scaring the victim with impossible defense tactics, withholding
critical evidence, giveaway plea bargains, careless sentencing.
among Millions: If we rely on just one story out of
millions to reveal just how stubborn is law enforcement
unwillingness to deal seriously with violence against women
it is this story told by San Diego City Attorney, Casey
Gwinn. You may remember that it was Casey Gwinn in the city
attorney's office and Sgt. Ann O'Dell on the San Diego police
department who in the very early 1990's pioneered the modern
law enforcement response to violence against women. The
protocols and training they developed reduced the city's
domestic violence homicide rate by over 60% in just a matter
of years. And those same protocols and trainings have today
become the accepted model of response throughout the country.
For more than a decade, through constant refinement and
improvement of these protocols, San Diego has maintained
its position as the flagship city of modern law enforcement
response to domestic violence.
But even so,
it was in the late 1990's, already years into the intensive
trainings and strict protocols that have guided San Diego's
response, when Casey Gwinn, his wife, and another couple
were driving home one night from a social event. They were
frustrated following a slow moving pick-up in front of them
when finally they were able to see why it was that the pick-up
was moving so slowly. The man driving the truck had one
hand on the steering wheel while he was busy with the other
hand pummeling the female passenger in the seat beside him.
The man pulled
the truck into a gas station and Casey Gwinn and his party
followed. Now the man was using both hands to beat the woman.
Casey called police on his cell while his friend went over
to the truck to stop the man's violence. When police arrived,
Casey's friend gave a witness statement to police, and then
the four of them stayed in their car and watched.
When the police
finished what they were doing and were about to leave, without
identifying himself, Casey asked the officer, 'Aren't you
going to arrest him?" The officer told Casey, 'No,
there's no need, it was just a typical boyfriend/girlfriend
dispute'. 'But,' said Casey protesting to the officer, 'look
at her eye. It's all swollen and red from the beating.'
'Nah,' said the officer, 'That's just because she was crying
It was only then
that Casey Gwinn identified himself to the hapless officer.
When the officer finally gathered himself together, he said
to Casey, 'Well, maybe, I ought to go back over there and
interview her in a little more depth'. From then, it was
a matter of minutes before the perpetrator was in handcuffs,
and the officer had a full set of written notes.
The moral, as
Casey tells it, is that if you aren't hyper-vigilant in
monitoring the law enforcement response to violence against
women, no amount of training is going to undo law enforcement's
deep seated tendency to deny protection and justice to women.