| In the
Wake of Macias:
How Does Law Enforcement Respond to Domestic
three years after Teresa Macias' murder put the lie to local law
enforcement's claims that they take domestic violence seriously,
a host of new programs and people have been put in place to improve
the county's handling of this deadly violence against women.
But just how
differently is a domestic violence victim today treated by police,
sheriff's deputies and the D.A.'s office? Before you get ready
to congratulate us on a job well done and move on to other things,
get a load of this:
changes mandated by the state make it more likely that police
can verify that a restraining order is in force, local changes
have made the process of obtaining a restraining order even more
difficult and less certain than when Teresa Macias
got her court orders in 1995 and 1996. It now takes two days and
two trips to the courthouse instead of one; and even at that,
judges refuse to sign the orders more often than in the past.
Emergency Protective Orders, which should be issued routinely
on the spot of any domestic violence incident, are becoming more
and more rare.
But what killed
Teresa Macias wasn't that she couldn't get a restraining order,
it was sheriff's deputies' utter refusal to enforce it. And that
hasn't changed one bit.
To this day,
we have never seen a perpetrator arrested if his only crime was
a restraining order violation. Both of the other victim advocates
in the county report the same. Often an arrest isn't made even
after 10 or 15 violations are reported; and the victim is more
than likely to be told that she is somehow to blame. No doubt,
as with Avelino Macias, perpetrators are only emboldened by this
failure to enforce the law.
January, 1996, our local police protocols changed to include a
mandated arrest policy in domestic violence incidents where there
is visible injury. This was a big step for a county known for
its law enforcement officers' failure to even write reports, much
less make arrests to protect women from their violent partners.
the most striking result we've seen of the mandated arrest policy
is a dramatic increase in retaliatory arrests of women for domestic
violence. In some police jurisdictions, as many as 1 out of 3
domestic violence arrests are of women, with even more women reporting
they were threatened with arrest if they insisted on reporting
the violence against them.
Department of Justice statistics showing that only 6% of all domestic
violence convictions involve a female perpetrator, these alarming
rates of female arrest are retaliation, pure and simple. And the
message they send is not lost either on women victims or on their
been arrested or threatened with arrest are far less likely to
call law enforcement the next time. And the men, seeing the cops
will let them get away with it, only escalate their violence and
control. It's a potentially lethal one-two punch, and a cruel
perversion of laws intended to protect women, not to sink them
deeper into despair.
designation of a special court to handle all misdemeanor domestic
violence cases has been lauded as evidence the county is finally
taking this violence seriously. Instead, it seems to be just one
more fancy way to ghetto-ize violence against women, lumping it
once again with victimless crimes (see
footnote 1 *) and sentencing batterers
to counseling instead of jail.
In fact, all
modern (read NOT Sonoma County) domestic violence policy is based
on the fact that the only thing that has been proven to stop the
violence is swift and early intervention by law enforcement, with
incarceration each and every time while the violence is still
at the misdemeanor level. Otherwise it surely escalates, all too
often into homicide.
In fact, as
it stands now one judge is handling all misdemeanor domestic violence
and drug cases, which means he must be handling the majority of
all criminal cases in the county! That's what they call giving
domestic violence the attention it deserves.
DV court also
creates an easy way to blow off serious domestic violence without
creating any of those pesky jail inmates. We continually see cases
of repeated and potentially lethal domestic violence charged as
a misdemeanor and shuffled off to DV court, rather than correctly
charged as multiple felonies and taken to trial. In short, DV
court is a dog-and-pony show that creates a gold mine for counselors,
a stroke fest for batterers, and a dead end for victims.
outside investigations sparked by Teresa Macias' murder severely
criticized the way victims are treated by county agencies. In
response, a gaggle of "domestic violence counselors" have been
added to the D.A.'s office and the larger police departments.
While victims are led to believe these women are there to fight
for them, the truth is the counselors can do little more than
act as a referral service and as mouthpieces for their law enforcement
bosses, creating yet one more level of bureaucratic sugar-coating
in the continuing practice of dumping or minimizing these cases.
Lest you think
this is a personal attack on DV counselors, there's a reason these
women won't fight for prosecution. While ostensibly hired by the
YWCA (which runs the domestic violence program in our county),
the counselors work directly with police and district attorney
staff. If they were to actually stand up and demand police and
prosecutors do their jobs, the counselors would soon find themselves
without a job. And if the YWCA were to back up a counselor in
a demand that police and prosecutors do their jobs, they would
soon find themselves without funds. We know that's true, because
that's exactly what happened to Women Against Rape.
Predictable Response: Retaliation
the results of our Macias investigation began rumbling through
the press, it didn't take law enforcement long to respond in their
all-too predictable way: Sonoma County's ten police chiefs and
the District Attorney set out, not to correct the problem, but
to silence and strangle the messengers.
don't know that the core grant money for rape and domestic violence
centers requires the annual signature of approval of all the county's
police chiefs and the District Attorney. Since at the time of
carrying out the Macias investigation, Marie De Santis worked
at the county's rape crisis center, Sonoma County Law Enforcement
Chiefs Association retaliated by refusing to give their signatures
to Women Against Rape's annual grant application unless De Santis'
access to the press was curtailed by the agency.
Women Against Rape held to principle and stood up to this extortion
by law enforcement. But finally, unable to survive without the
funds, they caved in to the police chiefs' threats. (Later they
even went so far as to change their name to "United Against Sexual
Assault," banishing both the words "women" and "rape" from their
masthead!) Soon thereafter, De Santis went on to establish Women's
Justice Center, a women's rights organization which, like the
Purple Berets, is completely independent of government funds.
the Purple Berets was a little harder -- first of all, we didn't
have any funds they could grab. Instead law enforcement employed
the age-old tactic of divide and rule. Using whisper campaigns,
disinformation and outright lies, they sought to divide the "good
girls" from the "bad girls" (us).
most women aren't fooled; still, we must be vigilant and support
those who still provide truly independent advocacy for victims.
Otherwise, we are literally condemning our sisters and
particularly poor women to an early death.
drug offenses are similarly treated with such paternalism (periodic
check-in with the daddy-judge) and diversion into "programs" instead
of jail cells. While completely appropriate in non-violent drug
offenses, such handling of society's most deadly violence once
again sends the message that domestic violence isn't a crime,
but only a counseling problem. Women's rights groups fought hard
to end this "diversion" in the wake of mounting evidence showing
that such counseling completely fails to stop the violence. (Back)