The headline grabbed me instantly. It spoke to me.
Here’s the link to the opinion that CNN published on their website on Friday, June 15, 2018:
Full disclosure: This was published under CNN’s Opinion section.
CNN also published this Editor’s Note at the top of the page: Natalie Schreyer is a reporter at the Fuller Project for International Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that covers issues impacting women and girls globally. She is working on “Abused in America,” a Fuller Project initiative to cover domestic violence in the United States. Jessica Klein is a journalist and co-author of the book “Abetting Batterers: What Police, Prosecutors, and Courts Aren’t Doing to Protect America’s Women.” The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.
I read this opinion. And then I re-read it. It stuck with me all weekend long. It’s still with me as I finish writing this post.
The comparisons that Schreyer and Klein make are staggering. After reading it several times, it makes complete sense to me.
Sure, I’m definitely biased here. I am a domestic violence survivor. I am an abuse survivor. Neither of these are ever okay. I’ve read several powerful memoirs and accounts of survivors (Tornado Warning), and stories of those who tragically lost their lives (If I Am Missing Or Dead: A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation) over the years. I don’t want to read new ones, if I’m being perfectly honest.
There must be harsher punishments for habitual offenders. The opening story for this opinion both broke my heart and made my blood boil – An alleged abuser has never been convicted of a crime, despite 160 encounters with police in 15 years. Quick math – That’s an average of 11 encounters per year. That’s too many.
One encounter is too many.
It took way too long for the current stalking laws to be enacted, and even now, those laws aren’t necessarily the same in every one of the 50 states (although it absolutely should be). The problem here is there’s a lack of consistency. The power is usually left up to the states, and that’s where many problems lie. Where you live is a huge factor, and it absolutely shouldn’t be that way!
But, what about all these non-violent offenders, in prison for decades on drug charges?
I could write a proverbial book. What the Nixon administration started in 1971 was a so-called “war” that will never be won. Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush kept fueling the fire. I myself was in the D.A.R.E. program in fifth grade. I vowed to never smoke cigarettes after watching my grandmother, my dad’s mom. She lived with emphysema for more than 20 years. She also had COPD, and was on oxygen since I was a child.
Now, in 2018, our country has been facing the “opioid crisis” for several years. Like the authors argue, “addicts who need medical treatment more than criminal punishment,” is so true. And, sadly, not likely to happen. There is a lack of investment in mental health treatment and addiction treatment. Addicts need resources such as medical intervention, quality treatment facilities, quality therapy and/or counseling, and continued support for as long as necessary to keep them sober, stable, and functional.
Why? We have more people in prison for drug possession than mental health treatment facilities. These men and women (not all, mind you), unfortunately, re-offend and get sent back to prison because they can’t get a good, steady job after being released. Struggling to support themselves and their families, they turn to what they’ve known as their source of income. And they’re stuck in this vicious cycle that doesn’t seem to end.
When I think of an “addict,” I think of someone involved with drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, or crack. The harder, more dangerous drugs.
To think of how many people (many are people of color, too) are in jail or prison for non-violent marijuana offenses makes me incredibly angry. I’ve been supportive of the interest to legalize / de-criminalize marijuana. But, that’s another story altogether.
There needs to be far more accountability on the domestic violence and abuser side, however. The authors pointed to a fascinating report from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which focused on High Point, North Carolina. When the focus was shifted toward cracking down on intimate partner violence, the number of intimate partner murders dropped from 17 (between 2004-2011) to just one (between 2012-2014).
Numbers are powerful. Seventeen murders dropped to one? Wow.
As I mentioned earlier, the current stalking laws took way too long to pass. Now, there really should be domestic violence courts in every state. The script should be flipped – Turn the thousands of drug courts (3,100 quoted in the opinion) into domestic violence courts. Problem solved? Maybe.
I’m not saying to get rid of drug courts altogether. What I’m saying is to shift the balance. Shift the balance of the number of courts, and maybe that will also shift the balance of power.
I certainly don’t have all the answers. I just feel strongly about the issues presented in this opinion. I hope more is done for all victims of domestic violence and abuse. No one deserves to go through the horror, shame, and terror. And this includes women, men, and children. There’s a lot of focus on women, but men and children are abused and violated every single day.
For more information, check out these resources. Many of these were also cited in the opinion.
- Drug War Statistics – Drug Policy Alliance
- A National Portrait of Domestic Violence Courts – U.S. Department of Justice, 2010
- Justice Department Select Three Domestic Violence Courts to Serve as Resources to Specialized Courts Nationwide – U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, March 2013
- When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2015 Homicide Data – Violence Policy Center (VPC)
- Criminal Victimization, 2015 – U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
- Evaluation of the Offender Focused Domestic Violence Initiative (OFDVI) in High Point, NC & Replication in Lexington, NC – The University of North Carolina Greensboro, North Carolina Network for Safe Communities, published February 2016
- Every 25 Seconds – The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States – Human Rights Watch, October 2016
- Prisoners in 2016 – U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, published January 2018
- Drug Courts Flyer 2018 – U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
- Resources – National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
- Stalking Laws – National Center for Victims of Crime
- Domestic Violence Courts: Offender Monitoring – Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂