COLUMN: My experience with domestic violence

The bruise on my arm wasn’t big enough.

That’s one of the reasons a county prosecutor gave me for why she refused to press charges against the man who physically assaulted me in Norman, Oklahoma in early 2015.

This week marks one year since I reported that assault, a crime that Oklahoma police and prosecutors declined to even look into, much less prosecute.

And the reason that this crime was neither investigated nor brought to trial is that even today, too many people continue to view domestic abuse as a “private family matter,” not a true crime.

It took five months for the Cleveland County District Attorney’s office to respond to my request for an explanation as to why they had done nothing after I filed a police report. District Attorney Greg Mashburn never responded to me directly. Instead, I was contacted by phone by the county prosecutor, Jennifer Austin.

I wasn’t crying enough on an audio recording of the incident, she told me. He didn’t leave any visible injury when he punched me in the face, and the bruise he left on my arm was too small.

She also suggested that my “story didn’t add up” about that night that left me terrified and traumatized.

Why, she wanted to know, did I wait so long (about two weeks) to report my abuser’s violence against me?

Never mind that only between 2.5 and 15 percent of victims of domestic violence ever report being victimized at all, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, or that victims often have compelling reasons not to report. Never mind that I only waited until I was back home in Indiana and no longer living with my abuser.

Well, Austin reasoned, my abuser had already been found guilty of domestic violence against me for the incident in question by IU and suspended for a year and a half. Hadn’t he already been punished enough? I mean, this is his future and career we’re talking about.

Never mind that my future and career would be left in shambles for at least a year after I left my abuser with the help of a two-year protective order granted by a judge in our more enlightened Monroe County.

Domestic abuse is a public health and safety crisis. More than ten million people are victims of domestic abuse every year in the United States alone, according to the National Council against Domestic Violence.

But too often, those assaults are not taken seriously even by the very people whose job it is to stand up for victims.

Even when abusers are arrested and charged, according to a book written by domestic violence expert Lundy Bancroft, “Sentences for the violence that men do to their wives or girlfriends are shorter on average than those they receive for assaults on strangers, even though partner violence causes more serious injuries and deaths than male-on-male fights do.”

If we hope to ever eliminate domestic abuse and intimate partner violence from our society, we have to start getting tough on abusers. According to Bancroft, “Multiple studies have demonstrated that abusers who are prosecuted are more likely to stop their violence than those who are not.”

Let’s stop the violence. Let’s prosecute abusers and send them the message that abuse will not be tolerated in our society. Because it’s not a "private family matter." It’s a crime.

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