Wyoming County’s new policy for dealing with domestic violence is the proper response to the always complicated and often tragic family situations that create the violence in the first place.
On Oct. 1, Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Cochrane enacted a policy that his office would no longer drop domestic battery or domestic assault charges, even if the victim refuses to testify.
“In the past, it seemed like seven or eight out of 10 (victims) would always want to dismiss before we would even set the bench trial,” he reported. “We said, ‘We’re going to put a stop to that.’ ”
Cochrane, who has been in office for six months, said his team felt it was a priority to be more aggressive in dealing with domestic battery.
“Beforehand, it was a policy of the first time, OK, you had a bad day, which (meant we) would probably be more likely to dismiss it. If they came back again, we’d be more inclined not to dismiss it, and the third, we would refuse to dismiss it.”
Under the new policy, if victims (the vast majority are women) don’t want to testify against defendants because they are caught in the so-called “cycle” of domestic abuse, prosecutors will subpoena them and compel them to testify.
“We want to make sure the potential defendant has received some type of treatment, whether it be anger management or whatever might be needed,” said Cochrane. “We had one recently that I refused to dismiss.
“We said, ‘We’ll offer you anger management, and once you’re successful with that, if the victim’s willing to dismiss, we will at that time, or I will just go ahead and take a plea of guilty on that and still send you to anger management.’
“We’ll use it on a case-by-case basis.”
We believe this is the correct approach to address a problem that is far more widespread in the state than many people realize. Here are some frankly sobering statistics about domestic violence from the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
— Licensed domestic violence programs in the state provide services to nearly 500 women, children and men. That’s an average day.
— Every nine minutes, a call is made to a domestic violence hotline.
— 14,880 domestic violence cases were filed in the state in 2010.
— One-third of all homicides in the state are related to domestic violence.
— Half of all assaults in West Virginia are between family or household members.
— One in four women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
The reasons why a victim of domestic violence decides not to testify are complex as well, prosecutors and experts say.
In West Virginia, some women just don’t want to testify against a boyfriend or husband because he “likes to hunt.”
Under federal law, anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense cannot own a firearm.
To us, that isn’t a good enough reason not to pursue these cases. Once batterers begin to realize there are real consequences to their behavior, there’s a better chance they’ll think first before lashing out, and will avoid placing themselves and their families in these situations in the first place.
And if adult abusers do face real consequences for their actions, there’s a better chance that young people will see that and take notice. Like fighting our drug problem, let’s make sure our younger generation sees that certain behaviors are not going to be tolerated.
Mandatory anger-management treatment and other early-intervention programs aimed at ending the cycle of domestic violence are a good place to start.