OK, so most of us at least dimly suspect that half of what goes down in the US justice system is some pretty dodgy shit: people getting locked up forever for having a joint, cops getting away with murder, what have you, it’s a mess. But in a courtroom, you hope you can at least assume that crime victims and the prosecution are more or less on the same side, in that they all want the guilty party to be found guilty and punished accordingly. But anyone who has more than passing familiarity with court proceedings knows that prosecutors are often arrogant, conviction-getting machines who won’t let anything stand between them and a win, even if it means compromising the rights of the victims whose interests they claim to represent.
Have a look at this travesty out of Barstow, California. The recap is that battered woman Deborah Harper is going to jail for a year for perjury, after she denied at trial that her boyfriend had beaten her senseless with a tire iron. Turns out, he actually had beaten her senseless with a tire iron, but she told law enforcement otherwise, probably out of fear that she’d be beaten senseless again. Say what you will about the sanctity of the courtroom oath, but if my choice were between jail time and a tire iron to the head, I’d probably choose the former.
Here’s a little truth nugget for you: domestic violence victims lie to people all the time about the extent and nature of their abuse, most often because their abusers have threatened to beat or kill them or a loved one if they rat them out. It’s also well documented that the criminal justice system does an inadequate job of protecting victims from their abusers, even when have taken precautionary legals steps like filing restraining orders.
Unlike other kinds of criminals, your boyfriend or spouse knows everything about you: where you work, where your parents live, how to get to your best friend’s house. For many victims, there is literally nowhere to hide. So maybe instead of locking Deborah Harper up for the crime of not being wholly forthcoming about the details of her latest ass-kicking, Barstow prosecutors should be asking themselves why she lied in the first place. Could it be that she suspected they couldn’t protect her? Could it be that she understood that restraining orders are often poorly enforce? And if that’s the case, could it also be that that isn’t Deborah Harper’s problem to solve, or make amends for, but their own?