There are myriad complex reasons why domestic violence victims stay with their abusers. In many cases, it is fear that the abuser will deliver on threats to hurt – or kill – the victim or people close to the victim, including children, friends and family members. Many of those reasons are also why – once police and courts are involved – many victims choose to reconcile rather than press charges against their aggressors.
Reconciliation not only keeps victims in dangerous relationships, it also makes it more difficult to bring charges that result in criminal convictions.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore may have found a way to reduce the opportunity of reconciliation with a new policy she instituted to contact victims within 48 hours of an arrest. The policy could be a game-changer in addressing one of the county’s most common felonies: family violence.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute in the U.S. In Texas, one in three individuals will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence.
Through June of this year, Travis County authorities filed 824 family violence cases, with more than half — 455 — involving intimate partners.
A victim knows well the extent an abuser will go to maintain control of the victim. Victims know that leaving is as dangerous a risk as staying.
A study of domestic violence-related homicides by the American Journal of Public Heath looked at 4,470 individuals killed in domestic violence–related incidents. Eighty percent were victims killed by their abusers. The remaining 20 percent included family members, new intimate partners, friends, acquaintances, police officers and strangers.
Moore’s 48-hour contact policy replaces a grinding outreach through mailing letters — many of which went to old addresses, the American-Statesman’s Ryan Autullo reported.
The new policy also turns two part-time positions into a full-time intake attorney — yet another way to speed up prosecutions, the district attorney said.
To relieve an overflowing docket, Moore appointed a family violence prosecutor to each of the eight district judges’ courts. The move, Moore told me in an email, has resulted in fewer cases for family violence attorneys and more for trial division attorneys. Since January, family violence attorneys have drawn about 100-125 cases each, down from about 400 last year before the new policy was implemented. Trial Division attorneys have drawn about 180-259 cases each since January, up from about 146 last year.
All attorneys will continue to work at a fast pace under the new policy, though domestic violence cases are among the most time-intensive cases the office handles, Moore said.
That’s something to keep an eye on, especially if an increased number of cases adds stress to already overburdened Trial Division attorneys.
If so, Moore should revisit the policy, so that other areas serving Travis County aren’t negatively affected.
Right now, the new policy shows promise. Figures from the first half of 2017 show grand juries are hearing family violence cases, on average, 47 days after an arrest. That’s down from 77 days in 2016.
That’s good news. The longer it takes to investigate a case, the more likely a victim will reconcile with the abuser – and that makes it more difficult to bring an abuser to justice, allowing abusers to continue to hurt others.