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Part I

Mapping the Obstacles to Criminal Justice for Women

The Problem: Systematic Denial of Protection and Justice to Women

Throughout the United States, and increasingly in other countries, there is a solid body of well tailored law which gives criminal justice officials immense powers and authority to intervene effectively in most all cases of violence against women, including in most cases where the victim is too fearful to testify.

The formidable problem that remains is the continued unwillingness of so many criminal justice officials to implement these powers on behalf of victims of violence against women. It's an unwillingness that officials have increasingly concealed from the public behind an elaborate showcase of violence against women programs and rhetoric. And it's an unwillingness that is unchecked by any legal or social controls.

Though most police, prosecutors, and probation departments have developed modern rhetoric, written policies, and all manner of task forces and programs targeting violence against women, the realities of their day-to-day responses to victims of violence against women and children remains woefully inadequate and steeped in sexist and racist denial of justice. To be sure, there are individuals and units throughout the system that are progressive and willing to use their powers on behalf of women. These individuals and units can be used to great advantage by victims and their advocates in moving the system forward.

But unfortunately, much of this progress is undermined by large numbers of criminal justice officials who are actively bucking these changes. The more progress is made on the one hand, the more sophisticated become the tactics used by reactionary officials to dump women and their cases out of the system. Many officials are so resentful of new policies telling them to treat violence against women seriously that they actively sabotage the cases, the policies, and the victims.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system as a whole shows little tendency to discipline these officials, or to bring them into line. The persistent hyper-male culture of law enforcement, in fact, is much more likely to protect and cover for these individuals than to punish. Officials who harbor and practice hostility towards women are still broadly tolerated throughout the criminal justice system. In fact, as we'll show later on, examples are commonplace of law enforcement agencies wholesale protecting rapists and batterers within their own ranks. The overall criminal justice system continues to collaborate with perpetrators who reside both inside and outside the system.

But it's not just the law enforcement/perpetrators who respond poorly to violence against women. Studies are beginning to reveal just how systematically police and prosecutors in general continue to withhold their powers from victims of violence against women.

* In the year 2000 an investigative reporter on the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed that the Philadelphia Police Department was dumping over 400 rape reports every year simply by wrongly filing the rapes under a minor "2701" call for service category. This categorization virtually guaranteed these cases wouldn't be investigated properly or taken seriously. Following the extensive coverage of irrefutable evidence exposed by the press, the Philadelphia Police finally admitted that this, indeed, was exactly what they were doing.

Similar tricks for wholesale dumping rape cases have been uncovered by journalists in numerous cities around the country. The Phoenix sex crimes units took rape reports on an "information only" form as their means of burying rape cases. Many police departments dispose of the large volume of their rape cases by routinely labeling rape reports as 'unfounded' or as a 'he said, she said' before any investigation is done.

* A year 2002 Washington State Domestic Violence Death Review (and Women's Justice Center's and Purple Berets' reviews of domestic violence homicides) reveals what the Washington State authors so aptly name "the meaningless processing of cases", a term they apply to the pattern of criminal justice officials moving the domestic violence cases through the system all the while withholding adequate application of real powers to the case. It's a dynamic that often is repeated again and again until finally the woman is murdered. Instead of summarily dumping the cases, as was the practice decades ago, officials go through the motions without ever taking serious action against the perpetrator.

It's worth pointing out that this "meaningless processing of cases" is not just run-of-the-mill bureaucratic malaise. It's purposeful slight-of-hand. The "meaningless processing of cases" is just one of the many cloaks of camouflage used by the criminal justice system in response to the public pressure of the last couple decades that law enforcement deal seriously with violence against women. Instead of abiding by the public and legislative will and implementing real power on behalf of women, law enforcement has created these cloaks of camouflage to chump the public into believing the job is being done while continuing to abandon women to the violence. As the criminal justice system gets ever slicker at hiding their denial of protection and justice, advocates need to heighten their watch dog skills.

* A year 2002 survey of 63 domestic violence victims carried out by Santa Rosa Police Department found that a significant number of responding officers were failing to carry out even the most fundamental requirements of victim protection and the most basic level of evidence gathering essential for prosecuting the cases. This despite ten years of constant community pressure on police to handle domestic violence more seriously.

In 33% of cases victims were not asked about the presence of firearms. In nearly 50% of cases where visible injuries were present, photographs weren't taken. In more than 50% of cases where children were present, officers didn't take a statement from children. In 27% of cases, the officer didn't ask the history of abuse. In no case in which the victim felt she needed a translator did the officer provide one. In at least 30% of cases where visible injuries were present, officers didn't make arrests as required by agency policy.

This victim survey reveals details of "the meaningless processing of cases' phenomena named in the Washington State report above. But even this Santa Rosa study fails to show the full picture of responding officer misconduct. The victim sample for the study was chosen from domestic violence cases in which the officer had written a crime report. So the study fails to capture the many cases we see in which officers simply walk away from legitimate domestic violence crimes without writing any report at all. Nor is it the seriousness of the case which determines the seriousness of officer response. In our experience, whether or not a case gets handled properly has more to do with which individual officer responds rather than with the seriousness of the case.

* In the year 2000, television news videos of the mass sexual assaults following the Puerto Rican parade in New York City caught police in the act. Police literally folded their arms and turned their backs on women, even as the women were being sexually assaulted right in front of their eyes. Even as women begged the police for help. One officer responded to a victim's desperate pleas for help by adding insult to injury and telling her in his most contemptful voice, "Go back to New Jersey."

The Daily Details of Law Enforcement Denial of Equal Protection and Justice to Victims of Violence Against Women. Because law enforcement denial of justice is largely invisible to the public, by far the most revealing window of all on law enforcement mishandling of violence against women is the window that's open to you, the advocate. If you work with victims, and if you're vigilant about watch-dogging your clients' criminal justice cases, you already know what law enforcement mishandling of violence against women looks like. But just for the record, here's a short list of the daily abuses by which the criminal justice system demeans, deceives, diminishes, and eventually denies implementing essential powers to victims of violence against women. You likely can add your own examples as you read this.

The Short List of Law Enforcement Abuses: Disinterested/abusive/racist and sexist/off-putting/uncaring/discouraging/or aloof attitudes by officials, failure to write reports, incomplete reports, biased reports, falsified reports, incomplete investigations, failure to gather all the evidence, failure to document all the evidence, failure to identify and address victim fears, purposely scaring the victim out of making a report...

Skimpy victim and witness interviews, hostile victim or witness interviews, failure to interview all witnesses, interrogating victims or witnesses, interviewing victims and witnesses in front of the perpetrator, insinuating victim culpability, showing disbelief of victims or witnesses, purposely shaming or embarrassing victims or witnesses, mocking victims or witnesses, threatening to accuse or accusing the victim of unrelated crimes, failure to ask key questions, failure to provide proper translation, etc.

Ignoring the victims' support persons, attempting to separate victims and her support, discouraging victim from obtaining an advocate, failure to inform victim of her right to an advocate, ignoring victim or witness safety, mocking victim fears, showing support for the suspect, laughing with the suspect, failing to arrest the perpetrator, arresting the victim.

Lying; lying to the victim that there's nothing that can be done when, in fact, there is clear justification for action, misinforming the victim about her rights, lying to the victim about the viability of the case, lying to the victim about the law, failing to return, or long delays in returning, victim phone calls, failure to inform victims of what happens next, passively allowing victims to fall through the cracks...

Failure to properly prepare victim for hearings, failure to file adequate charges, failure to file any charges, dissuading the victim from testifying, scaring the victim with possible defense tactics, scaring the victim with impossible defense tactics, withholding critical evidence, giveaway plea bargains, careless sentencing.

One Story among Millions: If we rely on just one story out of millions to reveal just how stubborn is law enforcement unwillingness to deal seriously with violence against women it is this story told by San Diego City Attorney, Casey Gwinn. You may remember that it was Casey Gwinn in the city attorney's office and Sgt. Ann O'Dell on the San Diego police department who in the very early 1990's pioneered the modern law enforcement response to violence against women. The protocols and training they developed reduced the city's domestic violence homicide rate by over 60% in just a matter of years. And those same protocols and trainings have today become the accepted model of response throughout the country. For more than a decade, through constant refinement and improvement of these protocols, San Diego has maintained its position as the flagship city of modern law enforcement response to domestic violence.

But even so, it was in the late 1990's, already years into the intensive trainings and strict protocols that have guided San Diego's response, when Casey Gwinn, his wife, and another couple were driving home one night from a social event. They were frustrated following a slow moving pick-up in front of them when finally they were able to see why it was that the pick-up was moving so slowly. The man driving the truck had one hand on the steering wheel while he was busy with the other hand pummeling the female passenger in the seat beside him.

The man pulled the truck into a gas station and Casey Gwinn and his party followed. Now the man was using both hands to beat the woman. Casey called police on his cell while his friend went over to the truck to stop the man's violence. When police arrived, Casey's friend gave a witness statement to police, and then the four of them stayed in their car and watched.

When the police finished what they were doing and were about to leave, without identifying himself, Casey asked the officer, 'Aren't you going to arrest him?" The officer told Casey, 'No, there's no need, it was just a typical boyfriend/girlfriend dispute'. 'But,' said Casey protesting to the officer, 'look at her eye. It's all swollen and red from the beating.' 'Nah,' said the officer, 'That's just because she was crying a lot.'

It was only then that Casey Gwinn identified himself to the hapless officer. When the officer finally gathered himself together, he said to Casey, 'Well, maybe, I ought to go back over there and interview her in a little more depth'. From then, it was a matter of minutes before the perpetrator was in handcuffs, and the officer had a full set of written notes.

The moral, as Casey tells it, is that if you aren't hyper-vigilant in monitoring the law enforcement response to violence against women, no amount of training is going to undo law enforcement's deep seated tendency to deny protection and justice to women.


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