LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Exposing the myths of Delaware domestic violence policy

“Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” –Thomas Paine

This could no be more apparent than the “superficial appearance of being right” policy regarding domestic violence in the state of Delaware. Our legislators, law enforcement, courts, and Attorney General Office all ignore the facts.

Seeking to instead embrace and protect myths that are parasitically connected to Federal funding for their respective agencies and departments regarding domestic violence. In other words, money is the reason they perpetuate myth over fact.

As he does every October, today at 10 a.m., Gov. Markell will present a proclamation recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the YWCA in Wilmington.

Missing from this proclamation (as is every year) is a focus on the truth regarding the dynamics of domestic violence.

Myth No. 1

Domestic violence is considered one of the most pressing issues in American society.

Everyone quotes the statistics given by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: one in four women will be victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives; 1.3 million women are assaulted by their partner every year; 85 percent of domestic violence reported is against women. However, in a conflicting survey taken by the CDC in 2010, it was found that 40 percent of the victims of severe, physical domestic violence are men.

The scholarly study went on to reveal that despite many findings that show almost equal amounts of abuse perpetrated against men and women, the media and government focus the most attention on the female victims of domestic violence. Men themselves are largely silent on the issue because of the perception that men are physically stronger, and should be able to subdue a female attacker easily.

Those men who do report physical violence are more likely to be ridiculed–both by law enforcement and by the public–than women are. More money is spent on women’s programs, and more crusades are launched on behalf of women who are victims of domestic violence, despite the fact that men are almost equally — or in some cases more likely to be victims of both physical and psychological abuse.

To add insult to injury, there continues to be very little research in the area of domestic abuse against men, with the Justice Department and all other agencies refusing to fund research

Myth No. 2

The domestic violence hearing is a judicious search for justice

Several years ago, former Delaware Sen. Liane Sorenson summed it up when she highlighted the absolute inefficiency of the PFA system:

“One of our problems that has come up repeatedly to the commission from the public has been the filing of false Protection from Abuse orders. The public has asked why people get away with claiming abuse when it didn’t happen,” she said.

Take note of the word that the good senator chooses — “repeatedly” — denoting a pervasive problem that has continued to fester for decades now.

The standard of evidence in those particular hearings is low (preponderance) with often times, the mere allegation constituting both evidence and probable cause in the civil domestic violence “conviction.”

One of the best examples of the schizophrenic disconnect between the civil DV conviction and the criminal DV conviction was the high-profile case of NASCAR’s Kurt Busch. In what was the longest and most extensive Protection From Abuse hearing on record, Mr. Busch was “convicted” in the civil hearing. But in the criminal case, where there is real evidence, the Dover Police found there was not enough evidence to charge him with domestic abuse.

Research conducted by the Rockville, Md.-based Stop Abusive and Violent Environments reported that under civil law, 2–3 million restraining orders for partner abuse are issued each year. Of these, the majority are false, trivial, or unnecessary; under criminal law, about one million persons are arrested each year for intimate partner violence, but only 33 percent of such arrests result in a conviction, revealing that hundreds of thousands of persons are wrongfully incarcerated each year.

Myth No. 3

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) federal grant money is being effectively spent to protect victims.
In actuality, the various programs within Delaware are rife with potential and confirmed mismanagement and fraud.

The United States Department of Justice Inspector General conducted a review of 22 individual VAWA grantees from 1998 to 2010. Of these 22 randomly selected grantees audited by the OIG, 21 were found to have some form of violation of grant requirements ranging from unauthorized and unallowable expenditures, to sloppy recordkeeping and failure to report in a timely manner.

In 2010, one grantee was found by the inspector general to have questionable costs for 93 percent of the nearly $900,000 they received from the Department of Justice. A 2009 audit found that nearly $500,000 of a $680,000 grant was questionable. This “grantee” referred to in the official U.S Senate Report is actually the Delaware Community Legal Aid Society.

Good news

Finally, there does appear to be a step in the right direction. Sen. Dave Lawson and Repr. Mike Ramone have sponsored a historical piece of legislation (SB99) that addresses the abuse and exploitation of protection orders.

This act makes clear that it is a class A misdemeanor when a person, knowing the information reported is false or baseless, reports to a law-enforcement officer or agency that a Protection from Abuse Order has been violated.

Unfortunately, during the previous legislative session, the bill was held up by the Senate Joint Finance Committee chairwoman Margaret Rose Henr, in committee. We are hopeful that in this upcoming legislative session she will listen to the call for reforms and help facilitate (what should be a no-brainer bill) SB99 with Gov. Markell being as gleeful in signing SB99 as he is in signing SB83.

All victims deserve protection and justice.

Gordon Smith
Delaware Domestic Violence
Legislative Project

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