Judges should learn about domestic violence



She was strangled and threatened with a knife while holding her 1-year-old child. And then a judge put her in jail.

Judge Jerri Collins of Seminole County, Florida made headlines in October 2015 for sentencing a domestic violence victim to three days in jail for refusing to appear in court to testify against her abuser.

The man accused of strangling her, Myles Maynard Brennan, was sentenced to only 16 days in jail, despite a prior domestic violence conviction and overwhelming evidence that strangulation is a significant risk factor for homicide by an intimate partner, increasing the odds of attempted homicide sevenfold.

So why did Judge Collins send the victim to jail?

People who have not been personally affected by domestic abuse, and even many who have, do not understand the dynamics of abuse, why it happens, who perpetrates it and who suffers from it.

The first shelter for female victims of domestic violence opened in 1973, and it was not until 1984 that Congress passed the Family Violence Prevention Services Act. Public awareness of the problem is relatively new, so it is understandable that our society is still somewhat in the dark about domestic abuse.

Unfortunately, judges, whose decisions can have literally life-or-death consequences for victims, are no exception.

In Connecticut in July 2015, 7-month-old Aaden Moreno was thrown to his death from a bridge by his father, Tony Moreno, against whom the boy's mother, Adrianne Oyola, had petitioned a court for a restraining order less than a month before. Judge Barry C. Pinkus had denied the request, stating, "I'm just not convinced that there's a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury."

Baby Aaden's tragic death could have been prevented. When Oyola said her abuser called her names, broke a temporary restraining order, shoved her and was possibly stalking her, Judge Pinkus should have listened. When Oyola said she feared for her son's safety and worried that Moreno might hurt the baby, Judge Pinkus should have responded by making sure the child would be safe.

Instead, Judge Pinkus denied Oyola's request for a restraining order and announced, "I think the two of you don't have a good relationship."

When judges fail to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse, they can inadvertently assist abusers in continuing to abuse their current or former partners and their children.

With one in four women in the U.S. becoming a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime, it is vitally important that judges and those aspiring to become judges get educated about abuse.

Trainings on domestic abuse issues are offered by most domestic violence centers and shelters either on a regular basis or by request. There is no excuse for judges to remain ignorant.

In almost every Indiana county, circuit court and superior court judges are elected by the people. It is in our power to make sure judges are in touch with community needs.

Indiana judges grant or deny protective orders, make custody decisions and affect the lives of abuse victims in countless other ways. The people we vote onto the bench can either protect victims or put them at risk.

By making informed choices at the voting booth, holding judges accountable for their decisions and demanding that judges become educated on community issues such as domestic abuse, each of us has the power to help make our communities better, safer places for everyone.


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