A Florida victim of domestic violence was recently sentenced to three days in jail, charged with contempt of court for failing to show up to testify against her husband.
While the media argues over whether the judge went too far punishing a woman who was already a victim of violence and had a small child at home, the case highlights a key aspect of domestic violence situations: the victim’s ultimate refusal to testify against her alleged abuser.
The woman in Florida is certainly not alone. In many cases, alleged victims of domestic abuse recant their original testimony or refuse to testify against their abusers. This can happen for a number of reasons: the victim may feel ashamed and not want people to know of the abuse; he or she may be financially dependent on the alleged abuser; or the abuser may manipulate the emotions of the victim, minimizing the abuse, expressing regret and ultimately convincing the victim to recant.
Domestic abuse cases are often emotional and difficult to prosecute. A victim may be depressed and anxious at the same time that he or she has to weigh the safety of self and family against potential financial dependency and conflicting emotions about the abuser. A domestic violence conviction can also play an important role in divorce proceedings, potentially affecting decisions about child custody and visitation. Ultimately, many victims decide that they want to just get on with their lives and “drop the charges”.
Ultimately, however, the victim himself or herself cannot drop the charges, as the victim is not the person bringing the charges; the state prosecutor is. But by recanting testimony or refusing to testify, the alleged victim makes the prosecutor’s job more difficult, and makes it more likely that the alleged abuser either won’t be convicted, or will be convicted on a lesser charge, which is what happened in the Florida case.