VI. Why Abuse Victims Refuse to Get Help

A New York City woman obtained a restraining order after she and her husband got into an argument. She wanted the abuse to stop, but didn’t want her husband, nick-named ‘Blue,’ to have to leave the house. When the police found him at home several days later, he was arrested. A few days later he and his wife came before the judge:

By David Feige

“He’s been good! She says emphatically in heavily accented English. “Everything going great. Please, Judge, I am this man’s wife, and I’m asking you to please let him come home.”

From what I can gather, Blue has been in jail for a week or more. His lawyer, a lanky, clean-shaven man, is trying to explain to [Judge Diane] Kiesel why it is time to let him out of jail.

This, of course, is a futile endeavor.

“This whole case is a mistake, Judge,” the Legal Aid lawyer says, his voice calm and persuasive. “My client’s wife has called the DA’s office repeatedly trying to get them to modify the order of protection so that my client can live in the home.”

“Yes! Yes! I call! I call! yells the wife from the back.
“Quiet, ma’am, or you’ll have to clear the courtroom!” an officer barks.

Legal Aid continues: “There have been no incidents of violence or aggression or anything – and most important, no one called the police here. My client was arrested based on a routine check of the house. The complainant in this matter tried to explain to the police that she wanted him in the house, and she’s here in court to tell you the same thing.”

Blue’s wife is nodding – and she’s about to speak again when Kiesel spies her.

“Sit down,” the judge says sharply. Apparently she’s not interested in what the supposed victim wants.

“Down, ma’am!” says a court officer. “Sit DOWN!”

Blue’s wife sits.

“Is there an offer here?” Kiesel wants to know.

“The People’s [prosecutor’s] offer is a B and thirty [days in jail], says a young assistant DA from the domestic violence unit, conveying the standard offer. She’s wearing tired pumps and a beige Ann Taylor dress.

“Does your client want it?” Kiesel asks dryly. She couldn’t be less interested in Legal Aid’s explanation.

“Judge,” Legal Aid replies, “my client wants to go home to his family – where his wife and children want him. I’m asking you to at least listen to this woman – this is what she wants, too.”

 

Despite the wife’s plea, Judge Kiesel sentenced the man to 30 days in jail, and for extra measure slapped him with a one year stay-away order.

Source: David Feige. Indefensible: One Lawyers’ Journey into the Inferno of American Justice. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2006. Excerpted from Chapter 11. Reprinted by permission.