The city and county prosecutor’s website promises that the Honolulu Family Justice Center is a safe haven, a domestic violence shelter that “will help victims break away from their abusers, regain their self-esteem, attain job skills and make new lives for themselves.” What the website doesn’t mention is that victims can’t bring their children to the $6.2 million shelter, which opened in November. They also must turn over their cellphones and laptops, and they will be turned away unless they promise to testify against their abusers.

While Honolulu’s prosecutor-run “shelter” with extreme strings attached is unusual, its prosecution-first, victim-second approach to domestic violence cases isn’t. Across the country, domestic violence victims who turn to law enforcement for help can be punished if they later decide that a criminal justice response isn’t in their best interest.

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At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Family Justice Center, prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro stood at a podium, decked out in leis, and boasted that his office “did a lot of things to help victims of domestic violence, even when the victims did not know what’s good for them.” In the eight months it has been open, just four victims have opted to stay in the 20-bed facility, says Kaneshiro’s spokesman Chuck Parker. Of those four, two of their abusers pleaded guilty or pleaded to amended charges while the other two are awaiting trial. According to Parker, “some victims have declined the offer to go to the safe house because of the rules,” but he would not specify how many had turned down the opportunity to stay in the shelter.

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