Thursday, January 12, 2006

Don't Jail Domestic Violence Victims

The feminist-driven pursuit of men has sunk to the point of being maniacal -- It is pursued even if it hurts women

Katina Britt claims to have been savagely beaten by an ex-boyfriend against whom she refuses to testify. Accordingly, a California judge has ordered her to be jailed on contempt of court charges this week. Britt's attorney is filing an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco on the grounds that state law permits Britt, as a domestic violence (DV) victim, to decline to testify in at least one trial with impunity; the testimony in question would constitute her first court appearance. The appeal may hinge on a technicality but Britt's case illustrates a fundamental change in the legal system's stance toward DV victims. Critics of the change, like me, argue that there is something wrong with a system when those it purports to protect refuse to co-operate and risk imprisonment instead.

The specific argument in the case of Britt revolves around the idea of "coerced testimony." In past decades, prosecution rarely proceeded if a DV victim refused to testify. This was especially true in cases like Britt's which authorities have called "weak" without her testimony. How has the issue of DV drifted from its early roots of empowering 'victims' and encouraging their voices toward imprisoning them and coercing their testimony?

The possible imprisonment of Britt results from a specific bureaucratic and ideological approach to DV that has dominated the legal system in recent years. The bureaucracy consists of the lawyers, counselors, politicians, 'experts', and other professionals who derive income or advancement from the prosecution of DV; to a large extent, the choice to prosecute has been taken from alleged victims and placed in the hands of bureaucrats.

The ideology is gender feminism that views DV as violence against all women; this makes obstruction of prosecution an act of harm against all women. Victims who object are often dismissed as being too confused or intimidated to perceive their own best interests.

According to the experience of Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe -- the prosecutor in Britt's case -- approximately 75 percent of DV victims are reluctant to testify. With Britt's refusal, the court followed California law by 'providing' her with court-ordered counseling. Since victims who persist in their refusal face imprisonment, Wagstaffe explains that most co-operate after the mandatory counseling. Thus, the threatened imprisonment of Britt may be uncommon only because earlier and more subtle forms of coercing testimony are usually effective.

Certainly the intention of coercing testimony from DV victims is clear. Nothing else explains the Spousal Privilege Exception statutes currently in effect for DV in almost every state. The well-established legal principle of Spousal Privilege requires that a wife or husband be able to refuse with impunity to testify in court on private matters. The DV exception allows prosecutors across North America to compel the testimony of one spouse against another in matters of DV. Advocates of spousal privilege view it as a limitation upon government's reach into the home, as a barrier separating the public and private spheres in order to protect the latter. Advocates of an exception for DV consider spousal privilege to be a remnant of the legal opinion that wives are a husband's property.

Exception advocate Shery F. Colb adds the argument, "[A] woman who decides not to testify against her husband might simply have forgiven him. is still reasonable for the state to prosecute him. After all, criminal assault violates the laws of the state and should not be considered a private affair to be addressed or not, depending on a private party's wishes." In short, DV is not a crime against an individual but a crime against society and, so, choice rests not with the individual but with society; in practice, this means it rests with the legal bureaucracy.

Colb's article is entitled "Helping Battered Women Without Holding Them in Contempt" but that title begs the main question: will battered women (or men) who do not wish to press charges or provide testimony be held in contempt? The answer is becoming "yes." DV advocates are ceasing to push for empowering victims with choice. They now argue for empowering bureaucracy to achieve social goals, even over the objection of victims.

How did DV come to the sad pass where its advocates defend the practice of imprisoning victims? In fairness, one reason is the extreme complexity of DV. Consider the Britt case. Her resistance to testifying is said to come from being intimidated by the alleged abuser. Even if this is true, however, how does her imprisonment constitute a solution? How can an imprisoned Britt distinguish the court system from her abusive ex-boyfriend, both of whom claim control of her life against her will? DV is a Gordian Knot -- a difficult, intractable and sometimes unsolvable problem. Alexander the Great 'solved' the legendary Gordian Knot by simply cutting through it with his sword. He achieved a bottomline with the knot by slicing through it.

As the survivor of severe DV, I know on a visceral level the complexity of DV. I also know there is a bottomline: DV is a crime committed by one individual against another. The way to empower victims is to restore and respect their choices, not to coerce them further. No one should be put in jail for being beaten up and, then, refusing to talk about it. Any system that imposes this punishment upon a victim is wrong on its face. And in its heart.



The Portuguese original of the article below is here. The translation below is adapted from here

"New Year, New life", is one of the popular Brazilian sayings this time of the year, but it could well turn out to be true in this year of 2006.

Many analyses have been made of the possible meaning of the political events of the year in Brazil - the destruction "from the inside" of what used to be known as the "historical principles" of President Lula's ruling Workers' Party (ethics, truthfulness, struggle against corruption and poverty) and the surprising defeat of the referendum that aimed to ban gun sales in Brazil. Some of the analyses identified the latter as some kind of a plebiscite on the government, as showing the rejection of the program of the winning party, the very program with which they won the 2002 elections. But that indicates a rejection in party-political terms only.

In reality, the defeat of the "Yes" option in the gun-ban referendum was a sign that a much bigger entity - bigger than political-partisan choices - was defeated. This entity is 'politically correct' thought.

The "politically correct" can be defined as a type of 'wishful-thinking' that is imposed on people through the mantric repetition of certain words. These words are carefully chosen to define reality in a certain manner, thus having the power of modifying the way people think about it, and ending by modifying reality itself. The basic premise is that 'reality' is subjective in essence, therefore being an exclusively personal good. By modifying this personal vision of reality through the Pavlovian conditioning of repetition, reality will be finally modified. Therefore reality is just a set of personal realities.

Initially received as a pseudo-intellectualized extravagance, it went further – by the means of a very careful dissemination plan by the 'cultural elite' – finally contaminating all environments it got in touch with. Its emergence in political campaign speeches and in the country's largest newspaper leads was the sign of the victory of political correctness in the market of ideas 'that sell'. From this point on - beginning in the 90's – there could be no political speeches or political news remaining without incorporating the flavor of political correctness; if not political correctness itself being directly incorporated in the speeches.

All political parties were misled by 'political correctness'. They all started to sound and to act as 'pc'. From right-wing to leftist parties, they all missed the point on the real nature of 'pc'. The result was that we came to a point that all parties lost their identity, as far as the public is concerned.

The lack of parties with electoral "persona" had its pinnacle in the presidential election of 2002, where all options seemed absolutely the same, and leaving it up to the electorate to choose between neckties, suits and hairdos. The apparent convergence of thought was so evident that all the 'adversaries' of 2002 ended up forming the support base of the new government in 2003. This lack of political identity caused by the overwhelming success of politically correct thought is a threat to Brazilian democracy. The lack of a broad range of political-partisan options is a mistake that has to be corrected. When I mention political-partisan options, I do not refer to the number of parties - which I consider excessive in Brazil - but to their political colors.

The conclusion is that, by means of politically correct speech, political parties in Brazil were transformed into a colourless, odorless jelly of slogans totally detached from the voters' real world. The defeat of the referendum that aimed to ban gun sales was a clear signal to the political class to avoid the excess of politically correct speech and pay more attention to the real world.

In spite of the apparent popular support for political correctness, the formula seems worn out. The high-flown speech, full of good intentions, disclosed its major victim after all: the political class. The witchcraft struck back against the wizard. The public perceived that, behind the good intentions, the real intention could be very diverse -- a new Brazilian edition of Orwell's doublethink. The overwhelming victory of the 'NO' vote in the gun referendum was a good expression of the exhaustion of "PC". Never have emotional appeals got so little attention. And never have words like 'individual rights' and 'freedom of choice' been so much debated in this country.

I hope this is the symbol of a new stage of Brazilian democracy. I anxiously look forward to the next chapters.

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