Domestic Violence – By the numbers:
- Every 9 seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten
- Number of U.S. Troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,614
- Number of women, in the same period, killed as the result of domestic violence in the US: 11,766
- Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined
- Number of people per minute who experience intimate partner violence in the U.S. – 24
- Number of workplace violence incidents in the U.S. annually that are the result of current or past intimate partner assaults: 18,700
- Number of women who will experience partner violence worldwide: 1 in 3
- Order of causes of death for European women ages 16-44: domestic violence, cancer, traffic accidents
By: Dan Beckmann
Judges wield a lot of power. And with that comes responsibility.
Domestic violence is on the rise in Central Florida. As are the stacks of cases inching toward the ceilings in judges’ chambers. Pressure to push through the overload quickly is, unfortunately, becoming a normal occurrence.
“This is the 20th case I’ve read today,” Circuit Judge Jeffery Arnold said this past summer, as I sat in the back of his Osceola County courtroom. It’s not uncommon for dozens of injunctions to land on his docket daily.
No doubt, judges constantly hear frivolous arguments between squabbling spouses. “This isn’t a domestic-abuse case,” one might think. Which allows for the occasional flippant remark, as was heard in these exchanges with Arnold earlier this year.
“Judge, he threatens to throw me against the wall … Instead of hitting me, he hits the wall and doors with his hands.” To which, Arnold replied to the husband, “Be careful, there are studs behind that drywall … You miss the air space and hit a stud [and] you’re going to break your wrist or hand.”
Maybe Arnold was tired … another argument at the end of a long day. Perhaps he was going for a laugh, trying to lighten the mood. But I don’t find anything particularly light or humorous about domestic violence.
Neither do I find anything funny about this exchange a few minutes later: “When he wants to talk to me and I don’t want to pay attention to him, he grabs me by the arms.” Arnold’s response: “Well, you’re inviting that kind of response when you do that.”
Arnold has, in the past, demonstrated insight and delivered justice for victims of domestic violence. So how could someone who dedicates his life to making things right say things so wrong? Blame the destructive and desensitized remarks on his lack of training.
According to the Office of the State Courts Administrator, every three years judges are required to complete their continuing judiciary education. Training conferences are spread across Florida, enhancing legal knowledge by keeping judges informed and updated on changes in legislation. While those conferences offer more than 900 hours of instruction, the only mandated domestic-violence training required is for new judges.
And what little domestic-violence training does exist is primarily relegated to newly written laws. There is no mandated sensitivity training. And the administrator’s office couldn’t tell me how many, from the nearly 1,000 hours of instruction, are spent directly on domestic-violence-related issues at all.
Ongoing training for doctors in specialized areas of study is required. Which is why I wouldn’t ask a podiatrist to perform a colonoscopy.
Yet, judges are allowed a large arena to render verdicts in cases over which they preside. They have complete autonomy and sweeping authority. But without adequate training in specified areas, they risk setting the bar so low one can step on it. If judges, such as Arnold, continue treating robbery and embezzlement cases on the same footing as domestic abuse, survivors everywhere should demand the creation of mandatory mistreatment insurance policies — the judicial equivalent of medical malpractice.
For victims suffering at the hands of their abusers, the courtroom is their refuge. They look up to the bench. And while some cases filed as domestic violence may fall short of the legal definition, for judges to assume that from the start only discourages those who sit before them with legitimate complaints.
It’s not enough to be empowered by a robe. Judges must be equipped with knowledge enriched with fairness and dignity. If there aren’t any state-mandated domestic-violence training classes, then judges should speak up. Advocates everywhere will provide their expertise and help expand the tools judges bring to the bench.
In the meantime, Arnold should revisit the reservoir of grace. He sits where he does because society is disrespectful. He shouldn’t emulate it. He should fix it. Judges deal with messiness, and irreverent remarks and offhanded comments only act as verbal shrapnel.
Domestic abuse is physical and emotional, the latter, oftentimes greater. If judges don’t understand how words can outweigh physical injuries, perhaps they should step away from the bench until they do. There’s no shame in that. There is, in fact, honor.