Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why Aren't Victims More Cooperative?


A couple weeks later, police still can't find the victim to get a formal, written statement about what happened. To get that statement, police have repeatedly visited the victim's home and left phone messages for him. So far, they haven't heard back."We are talking about putting people in prison for a long time and the County Attorney has certain standards," explained Fossum. Police said what happened in this case is too common in other shooting cases. Cooperative victims sometimes have a change of heart. Others prefer their own form of violent "street justice".
This story caught my eye for several reasons. While this story focused on gun crimes in the most dangerous parts of Minneapolis, the issues are similar to the ones police encounter in domestic violence. In both cases, the puzzlement comes from seeing only certain parts of the situation.

As with the woman who has been attacked by her husband or another man in her life, a victim who cooperates with the police is taking great risks. The person under investigation has already demonstrated the willingness to use violence or the threat of violence to control others.

If the police or the criminal justice system fails, it's the victim who will most likely pay the price.

That means the police and the entire criminal justice system have to prove that the system is the best option for victims. It also means that the criminal justice system needs to look at how to keep victims who cooperate safe if or when the person charged with a crime is allowed out on bail.

Another element in understanding the full dynamics at play is the victim's daily life and how cooperating will disrupt that.

What might look to the police as the victim choosing danger or abuse over safety may be much more complicated in reality. Changing that basic reality is where many prevention programs make a positive impact on the level of crime. Unfortunately, prevention programs are often seen as an expensive luxury when they can be cheaper than purely reactive systems.

And of course there are the times when victims who cooperate with police find themselves treated like criminals but without any of the legal rights given to those accused of a crime.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 3:08 PM   2 comments links to this post


At October 18, 2006 3:55 PM, Blogger Holly Desimone said...

Dear Marcella,
Well put, many victims/witnesses who do help police in cases wonder about safety. The sad truth is if someone wants victims/witnesses scared, threatened, are even bring harm victims/witness makes it hard for many to come forward.
The fight for justice, truth in many cases is at risk if we do not protect the victims/witnesses in cases. We have many lessons to be learned in even protecting Judges. As you know Judges and other court officials have been murdered in many cases.
I only hope the future will make victms/witnesses come forward and police do the right thing PROTECT THEM!

At October 19, 2006 9:40 AM, Blogger sailorman said...

The worry is one of autonomy. It is good to want the woman to do w"hat's best" for her in an objective sense. But the trick is not witholding her OWN autonomy to choose what that "best" thing is.

Women who got restraining orders when I was working in court would get an advocate, for example (all of who were women). We would request an advocate some to talk to someone if something "smelled wrong" (when we talked to a woman and we suspected there might be a deeper issue.)

The advocates would generally help the women get restraining orders when necessary. But it is not uncommon that the effect of the restraining order didn't make people happy: their boyfriend/husband would move out; they couldn't call HIM (he's legally required to hang up); he might no longer contribute money if he wasn't legally required to do so; they couldn't talk to each other, etc.

So a lot of women would want them lifted. But the restraining order often could not be lifted without the consent of the advocate--which they would not always give--and the consent of the judge--who would sometimes say no. This led to the occasional bizarre situation of a restraining order continuing between two people who BOTH said they didn't want it.

The moral issues there are pretty obvious. And I think they're the same here.

I think you've identified the correct solution, though: Instead of pushing the women to testify (losing their autonomy) we simply have to make the process appealing enough that they will choose to do so on their own.


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