(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 6 October 2012)
If I had a wish for Domestic Violence Month, it would be that every female victim of this beastly crime would garner enough courage and foresight to testify against her offender. Sadly, that is not the case and many offenders walk away with a smirk on their face ready to abuse again.
There are many reasons victims of domestic violence do not testify against their abusers. Some women are financially dependent upon the man and it is difficult for these women to see a way to support themselves and their children without the man and they often choose to continue with the abusive relationship so there is food on the table and a roof overhead.
Some women do not testify against the offender because they truly believe the offender can and will change. There is a sincere love for the man and they disbelieve that a man they love could be so cruel, that is until the next violent episode. He will beg for forgiveness, bring flowers or gifts and tell her how much he loves her. Everything is just fine, until it isn’t and she is once again bruised, bleeding or dead.
Other women do not testify because of terror. These women have no pretty delusions that everything will be fine, they know firsthand just how deadly the offender can be. They have seen it firsthand. They have felt it on their body and seen it in the abuser’s eye. This victim also knows that if they testify and the offender still goes free (as happens frequently), she will pay a hefty price for her testimony and perhaps the ultimate price.
It is for these reasons and many more that victims of domestic violence do not testify against the offender. Sadly, the end result is more abuse and sometimes death. There simply has to be a better way to pursue the domestic violence offenders.
I have mentioned before that it is vital for the laws on Guyana to change to facilitate the prosecution of domestic violence cases without the need for the victim’s testimony. There is evidence-based prosecution, which refers to a collection of techniques utilised by prosecutors in domestic violence cases to convict abusers without the cooperation of an alleged victim. It is widely practiced within the American legal system by specialized prosecutors and state’s attorneys and relies on utilising a variety of evidence to prove the guilt of an abuser with limited or adverse participation by the abuser’s victim, or even no participation at all.
According to Wikipedia, “Prosecutors managing [domestic violence] cases face a constant problem of victims who are unable or unwilling to cooperate with prosecution…
Evidence-based prosecution arose from the desire to prosecute individuals in domestic violence cases either without placing pressure on the victim to cooperate when she or he might face retaliation or other dangers from doing so, or when such pressure is applied but ineffective. It was first used in the 1980s, but did not become widespread until the 1990s. By 2004, it was actually preferred by some prosecutors, who reported higher conviction rates without victim cooperation than with it. As of 2010, the use of evidence-based prosecution is strongly encouraged, if not mandated, for agencies receiving federal funding through the STOP Violence Against Women Act.”
Evidence-based prosecution uses 911 call recordings and transcripts, child witness statements, neighbour witness statements, medical records, paramedic log sheets, prior police reports, restraining orders, booking records, letters from the suspect, videotaped/audio taped interviews with the victim and the defendants’ statements.
Let me provide a clear-cut case that could have been prosecuted using evidence-based prosecution. This is a story from August of 2011 as provided by a series of Stabroek News articles; a mother of four was allegedly shot twice in the shoulder by her husband during an argument at their Prashad Nagar home. The woman’s sister, who lived in the bottom flat of the couple’s home, said she heard gunshots, followed by strange noises and talking just after 2 am. As the man was leaving, the sister went out to him and asked what had happened. She said, “He seh ‘gurl ah gon tell you the truth… ah just shoot yuh sister.”
The woman was taken to the hospital. After being in hiding for most of that day, the man returned to the house in the company of several men.
He collected some of his belongings and reportedly informed his children that he was going to jail. The man then turned himself over to police at the Kitty Police Station. He also turned over the firearm he is believed to have used in the shooting.
After all of that, the police would not even initially lay charges against the man without a statement from the victim, who was in the hospital nursing the gunshot wounds. Police finally arrested him and then released him saying the victim refused to give investigators a statement about the incident. Of course she refused! She was terrified for her life! The man shot her!
On August 24, the man was placed on $10,000 bail after being arraigned for discharging a firearm within 100 yards of a public way. Note that he was not charged with attempted murder of his wife or even for causing bodily harm.
It is not clear what eventually became of this case, but I do know that this case had plenty of evidence to prosecute the offender without the victim’s testimony. He allegedly confessed to the victim’s sister, he told his children he was going to jail and he turned himself into police – with the gun he used to shoot the victim.
And this is just the evidence known to the public, there would most certainly have been more, such as linking the bullets in the gun to the bullets taken from the victim’s wounds and gun powder residue on the man. Is this man in jail or is he walking free because the laws are inadequate to protect the women of the nation?