Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Expanding The Gun Violence Count: Prosecuting Survivors for the Crimes of Their Abusers

In our third commentary on gun violence and its aftermath, Prof. Margaret Drew notes that the desire for revenge and accountability following mass shootings and other crimes often results in prosecutors charging intimate partners of the shooters. 

Noor Salman was punched, verbally degraded and sexually assaulted by her husband throughout her marriage.  She was kept under lock and key by her in-laws following her husband's crimes.  Ms. Salman had the misfortune to be married to the Pulse Nightclub killer.

If the connection between domestic abuse and mass murder had not been clear at the time of the Pulse nightclub killings, it certainly is undeniable now.  To imagine that someone so horribly abused would have an ability to persuade her husband out of his violence, or even have the ability to contact police when under the threat of death herself, defies any understanding of the impact of trauma and specifically the dynamics of intimate partner abuse.

According to the The Intercept, "the underlying phenomenon of abuse-to-criminalization is remarkably commonplace. Almost 80 percent of women who are currently in federal and state prisons were victims of physical or sexual abuse before their incarceration. And the Correctional Association of New York, which has been monitoring New York prisons since 1846, estimates that around 75 percent of incarcerated women have experienced severe abuse at the hands of an intimate partner during adulthood."  Ms. Salman is not alone.  Victims are charged with the crimes of their abusers more frequently than the public is aware.

 Marissa Alexander was convicted in 2012 of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot at her long abusive husband. "There are other situations that lead to charges against abuse victims: Many women are charged with failure to protect their children from their abusive partners, or for failure to report the criminal activity of their abusers to authorities. Others, like Salman, are charged with aiding and abetting their abusers in crimes they didn’t commit themselves. In many of these latter cases, victims face prosecution for felony murder if they were present when abusive partners killed their children, family members, acquaintances, or strangers"

As in the Salman case, charges are often brought even when the perpetrator is dead.  Conspiracy laws are used to sweep victims into the law's net for a variety of crimes, when a victim's only act was to cohabit with the perpetrator.

In these instances, prosecutorial discretion was misguided.  Rather than investigate and become educated on the dynamics of abuse and the impact of trauma, the prosecutors adopt the same victim blaming stance that historically has kept abused women from receiving adequate help to become independent.

Ms. Salman''s acquittal brings some comfort that judges and juries can sort out the difference between aiding and abetting and entrapment.

But sometimes it is impossible to sort the difference between an uninformed prosecutor and those who callously overreach in the name of the state.



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