American Judges Association
Date of this Version
Court Review, Volume 53, Issue 1 (2017)
Thanks to significant reforms over the past few decades, the American justice system today recognizes that intimate-partner violence is not a private wrong, but an evil that society as a whole condemns. Courts routinely issue protective orders to enhance victim safety and punish convicted batterers 1 with sentences commensurate with the seriousness of the harm they inflict. However, the dynamics of abuse and the pernicious effects of ongoing violence are not always recognized or taken into proper account when a victim of battering stands accused of some sort of wrongdoing, whether in criminal court or in the course of family-court proceedings.
Victims of battering are often fearful of finding themselves in court in any capacity because they have been subjected repeatedly to threats about how the batterer will “destroy” them in court. They have become convinced, based on what the batterer has told them (and perhaps based on prior negative experiences with the justice system), that no one will believe them. Victims have seen firsthand how the batterer has been able to manipulate others (police, marriage counselors or therapists, family, neighbors, clergy, and the courts) into believing the victim is to blame for whatever problems the couple or their children are experiencing.2 Batterers are often skilled at presenting a calm, reasonable demeanor to responding officers, judges, or other court personnel, while victims may present as emotional or inarticulate as a result of the trauma they have experienced.3
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