Jan 27, 2009

New program aims to better protect victims of domestic violence in Connecticut

The title of this article in the Republican American is a bit misleading. The program in question, designed to keep the addresses of sexual assault, stalking and Domestic violence victims confidential, is not "new"It was in fact created via the passage of a bill by the Conn legislature in 2004. And though clearly an important program that could help save lives, it has not been used by Connecticut's crime victims simply because our courts have been remiss in informing them that the program existed.

While The article does make mention of the fact that the bill has not been utilized much, they cite shelters and local agencies as the culprits in not passing the info along to the many victims that they deal with- In reality it is the victims advocates and prosecutors in the state of Connecticut who should have been recommending this program to all victims of stalking and/or sexual and partner violence whenever there was a history of threats and/or the possibility of future violence (and as you might imagine, this is quite often.)

Unfortunately, this under-utilized program is reminiscent of many other state and federal "programs" that have become programs in name only simply because victims are not made privy to their existence by the very people charged with ensuring their future safety.
As reluctant as I am to bring up my own experience with Connecticut's judicial system, every so often it is imperative to certain discussions regarding the experience of crime victims in this state.; A number of years ago I was a victim of violent crimes and although the crimes occurred in my home in the suburbs, the case fell to the nearest presiding GA city court-As luck would have it a busy courthouse that had recently lost a savvy and tough judge who had been presiding over its domestic violence docket for several years. Connecticut's criminal judges only serve 2 years stints and for the relatively short time that he presided, this court had secured a reputation as one of the toughest- and best DV dockets in the state. However, once this judge left, it was as if the teacher had left the building and the lackadaisical apathy that had dominated the court in the past, resumed its hold once again.

I daresay that my experience within the Connecticut judicial system was far more damaging to me than the brutal violence of the assault itself . and I do not say this lightly.The treatment that I received within the court was utterly spirit crushing and it far surpassed mere negligence, but for the purposes of this post Ill stick with the most pertinent transgressions;
First I was never informed that there was a state and a federal programs available to help reimburse victims for medical costs and lost wages due to injuries sustained within their crimes. I was never even asked if or how I was managing these things, especially as I was unable to work at all for well over a month and only part time for many months after that, due to a traumatic brain injury and a cochlear concussion inflicted by my assailant.

It was also never mentioned ti me that the court could order my assailant to pay restitution for my medical costs and/or my lost work time, as part of any "plea deal" approved by the states prosecutors. Restitution is indeed an important part of accountability and as such is standard procedure in many state courts for most cases involving assaults

The most serious insult committed by this court occurred when I was moving out of the town that my restraining order was filed in; I asked via the victims advocates office ,to have the restraining order re-filed with my new address and sent to the appropriate new police department- I was instructed to do this by the very Police dept that presided over my new home address. They informed me that if my assailant were to violate the order at my new address, they would be unable to arrest him without an official copy of the standing criminal restraining order on file with them with my new address on it. They suggested getting this done asap.

The victims advocate called me back to tell me that the prosecutor refused to refile the order saying that "if they did this every time a victim with a standing criminal restraining order moved ,they'd be filling out paperwork forever".
When I asked if she'd informed the prosecutor that the local police dept instructed me to do this, she'd answered yes, but they didn't care.

"They didn't care." This was a case where stalking was one of four charges, as well as terroristic threatening-I had been told by my assailant that if I reported him to police he would "finish the job, no matter how long it took" Indeed, one of the reasons I was moving at all was that this dangerous man had only received a suspended sentence with probation within a deal, and had already broken the restraining order several times and it was clear to me that something very drastic would have to happen before the court took any viable action..

Luckily at this point I had had some time to heal from my injuries as well as a pretty severe case of post traumatic stress which had consumed me for months after the crimes and the lackluster resolution of my case. I was beginning to get back some of my signature strength and tenacity, I placed a call with the assistant to the prosecutors supervisor who worked in a seperate courthouse and explaining all of the difficulties that I'd encountered as a victim of crime within his court. For whatever reason this compel the and my prosecutors boss filed a certified copy of the order to the proper police dept, but did not explain nor apologize for the prosecutors refusal to do this in the first place. There is not doubt that the address confidentiality bill would have served me very well had I ever been made aware that it was an option. As it was, I had enough problems being afforded my basic rights as a victim of crime in Connecticut.

Unfortunately, my experience is far from an isolated case within Connecticut's courts-in fact some have said that it is one of the better resolutions! I have since spoken to hundreds of women in Connecticut who have been given what would appear, the rote treatment for victims of intimate violence; lack of communication, lack of respectful treatment and almost without fail, dragged out adjudication of their cases, ending with a plea bargain, no trial and always reduced charges and dropped charges. Many other cases still are nolled and all charges dropped completely, presumably for lack of evidence or due to the defendants status as a "first time offender." Thus, a first strike long before any official first strike.

To be fair, there are some tough, committed prosecutors within our state Domestic violence dockets,but they are theexception. Anytime a victim knows her attacker, albeit someone she dated once for a short time, it falls under the Domestic crime umbrella.

And where judges once ruled the courtroom, with a 96 percent plea bargain ratio, most judges have become figureheads, giving an obligatory nod to whatever deal was worked out by the prosecutor, whose motivation is often clearing the daily docket as quickly as possible.

No comments: