"WHY DIDN'T YOU LEAVE?" This question, and other questions like it, is routinely and exclusively asked of victims that have survived intimate partner violence. The question I do not hear is, "why did the offender continue to repeatedly assault their intimate partner?" The assumptions underlying these questions must be understood to meaningfully reduce intimate partner violence.
The "why didn't you leave?" question puts emphasis on what the victim did or did not do in order to make the violence stop. These types of questions are frequently asked by the victim's friends and family, society, police agencies and prosecutor's offices alike. Focusing on the victim's actions is a subtle, and all too often recurring, theme that hinders the prosecution of intimate partner violence. It assumes that the victim is to blame for the pattern of violence or, at the very least, that we must exclude the victim as a potential cause. (1) Instead, the blame should be placed squarely on the person responsible for the violence--the offender.
In recent years, there has been much progress made with regards to prosecuting intimate partner violence. Despite this, the trend in the criminal justice system is to put the victim's choices under significant scrutiny. The victim's actions and reactions to the violence are routinely highlighted and questioned. Ultimately, scrutinizing the victim's actions is counterproductive to prosecution and often makes the victim less willing to participate, not as likely to come forward, and reduces trust in the criminal justice system. On top of all that, the victim must also carry the burden of prosecuting the offender. There is a noticeable need for change in our approach to prosecution.
For the past two years, under the leadership of Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of victims while exclusively prosecuting domestic violence cases. In an effort to address domestic violence, the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office in Lansing, Michigan is committed to prosecuting domestic violence cases in an offender-focused, victim-centered manner. Shifting to an offender-focused approach helps hold violent offenders accountable while keeping the victim's choices, safety, and wellbeing at the center of all decisions.
Traditionally, the justice system focuses on the victim's actions, and tends to overlook the offender's conduct. Often the system seeks to help the victim by providing recommendations for how to avoid patterns of repeated violence or ways to escape the violent situations. (2)...