Friday, February 24, 2012

THE LEGAL WORLD : We the People and Violence-- Who is Protected?


            Law, in theory, is supposed to protect all people (We the people!) without discriminating against their age, race, or sex. This is supposed to make people feel safe in their own country, their own homes. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case, especially when women are concerned. Thousands of women each year experience domestic abuse and more than half of these victims never report the incident to the police, not only because they fear their abusers, but also because the law does very little to help-- what's the point in divulging something so sensitive to a bureaucracy that must remain so apathetic?

            When a policeman shows up to a domestic abuse call, there is a certain ambiguity present in the situation. Though 911 receives a call of distress, if  the policeman does not directly witness the abuse, there is little he can do to hold the attacker responsible. He can only warn the supposed abuser to modify his behavior and threaten that if the problem persists he may be taken into custody. The policeman can also advise the couple to work out a solution or leave the alleged victim a number to call in case this situation arises again. 

         If the policeman finds enough evidence to suggest abuse, he can take the abuser into custody. More often than not, however, it does not make a difference because the abused woman retracts her statement or simply drops the charges against her husband/boyfriend/father. As a result the attacker is let go. One could say that it is the woman’s fault that she remains in an abusive relationship; even if the woman wanted to get out and scream their pain to the world, their chances of making it out of the relationship alive are slim to none. What happens to the women in abusive relationships who do try to run away, or seek legal aid? More than 90% of them end up dead at the hand of their abuser. These deaths could be prevented if the law were to have been more aggressive in its campaign toward the protection of women.

            There are laws that clearly state that physical and emotional abuse is illegal, but it is very hard to pursue legal action in such cases. Credibility and hearsay are usually the most lawyers have to go on. The few women who do seek help are usually turned away because they lack the evidence needed to build a case against the abuser, and what’s worse, most of the time the policemen do not believe these women or "don't have enough time to help". In fact, there have been cases in which women have been driven back to their abusive households by the very same policemen they went to for help. There seems to be a certain lack of faith or efficiency that comes from the law enforcement. And, because a few women have lied or exaggerated claims of abuse, this "dramatic" stigma often times carries over to all women, so that women with real problems aren't taken seriously by law enforcement (the boy who cried wolf?). Regardless of who is crying wolf, these women should be treated with respect and importance. I do not see this happening. Do you?

This is one of the reasons the Supreme Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argues that women do not need to tell their husbands/partners if they are choosing to have an abortion. O’Connor stated that women could not be forced to give birth to an abuser’s child and, more importantly, could not be forced to have the courage to stand up against her partner to make sure she can have this procedure (her actions, her choice, no need for consent). Imagine being in a relationship in which your husband or boyfriend abuses you each and every day. Confronting him with such a life-altering decision as an abortion would set him off in a whole new bout of fury. Imagine being routinely abused for no reason. No woman should experience that physical and psychological damage. The law is adapting slowly-- mediocre at best for the help of such woman. The enforcement? Even less so. I think it's time for hypocrisies to be wiped out, and for women to get what they deserve : safety. Even our preamble promises us these bare rights of protection: "to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves." I'd like to see some promoting and securing-- come on America, let's go!

The Woman Behind the Legal World Section:
 Christina Ontiveros is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. She is double majoring in Legal Studies and Anthropology, and is an excellent and dedicated student. She is passionate and loyal; we can all count ourselves lucky that one day she might just be our lawyer! 

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