Thursday, November 1, 2012
Sixty-two people died in Indiana from domestic violence between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012. Tammy – her last name is not being published – said she knew the night her husband threatened to kill her, her two teenage children and then himself that it was time for him to leave. With support from her father, she persuaded her husband to pack a bag and go. For years, she blamed the cycle of abuse, tearful apology and slow buildup to another blowup on her husband's bipolar disorder. But this time she was truly frightened and believed he meant what he said. “For years I felt like I had been walking on eggshells,” Tammy said. He returned several days later, begging to be let in, to talk things over. Since she was home alone, however, she refused to let him in. She watched him walk back to his truck. He was carrying a hammer. Tammy called the police; the dispatcher told her she should get a protection order. All night she sat up by the door, afraid her husband would return. The next morning she went to the courthouse to get the protection order. As she filled out the paperwork, she was told the judge might not approve it. Two hours later, she had the signed protection order in hand. Her husband eventually divorced her, and six months later she was laid off from her teaching assistant's job. With few options, she sold the house – the only home her two children had known – and moved back home with her dad. She took a job as a waitress at a Pizza Hut, just to make some money, and eventually was hired to work in a library. “If someone told me in eight months all this would happen I wouldn't have believed it; I was divorced, unemployed and homeless,” Tammy said. She and her children got counseling through the YWCA, and Tammy later joined a program there called Steps to Success, which helps women recovering from abusive relationships to start over. She began putting her life back together. Now, several years later, both her kids are in college and she is engaged. “I was lucky to get out. So many people don't and end up dead,” Tammy said. According to Christine Neilson, deputy prosecutor for Allen County, the biggest hurdle to filing a domestic violence battery case is victim cooperation. “They love this person, they have children with this person, and they rely on them for support, housing and baby-sitting. They get pressured from the perpetrator's family. They are fooled into thinking they are sorry and it will never happen again,” Neilson said. Not having a victim in court can be problematic with a jury, as well. “You can tell by the look on the jurors' faces, if the witness doesn't care enough to be there, why should we? We have to make them care about the situation enough and impress upon them the importance,” Neilson said. Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said prosecuting domestic violence cases is harder now, since the number of cases has increased and there are more felony charges. Neilson said the increase in felony charges for domestic violence shows the crime is being taken more seriously then it was in the past. However, Neilson said prosecution has been set back with the confrontation clause. The prosecution used to be able to get in more evidence without the victim being present. A change in the law restricted the amount of testimony the prosecution can have admitted that doesn't come directly from the victim, such as 911 call recordings or an officer's testimony about what the victim may have said at the scene. So now, if an uncooperative victim doesn't show up in court, prosecutors can be limited. Under the law, the alleged perpetrator has the right to confront his or her accuser. So anything the victim may have said during an alleged emergency situation cannot be used in court unless the victim is present, because the alleged perpetrator has the right to cross-examine him or her on those statements.