A domestic violence case is unfolding in San Francisco that can teach us almost every lesson we need to know about what’s wrong with the way we deal with DV in this country. San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s DV case shows how we get DV wrong, which is to say, in just about every way possible. Read about it here (Washington Post, 1/20/12).
For the sake of this post, I’ll assume that Mirkarimi committed some form of DV against his wife, Eliana Lopez. I certainly don’t know that to be a fact, but there seems to be a videotape of her saying he grabbed her arm, leaving a bruise on it, so I’ll assume that’s true.
It all happened on New Year’s Eve. Lopez went to a neighbor’s house complaining of a set-to with Mirkarimi. But the neighbor she went to was not just any neighbor, she was one Ivory Madison, a feminist with a long history of attacking the usual feminist targets. For example, while in law school, Madison complained about an article that was submitted to the school’s law review for publication. Her complaint? The article referred to its author reading Playboy. To Madison, that constituted sexual harrassment. Her demand that the review refuse to publish the submitted article was denied, but the incident gives us a fair idea of Madison’s bent when it comes to feminist issues.
So when Lopez showed up on her doorstep complaining about her husband, Madison whipped out her trusty video camera and recorded what Lopez was saying.
Now, Lopez apparently had no intention of going to the police, but, needless to say, Madison was happy to. She waited four days to do so, but she alerted the police about Lopez’s statement. Oddly enough, she refused to turn over the recording to them, but it was all enough to have Mirkarimi arrested and charged with domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness. Mirkarimi has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Meanwhile, Eliana Lopez obviously never wanted any of this to go to the police. When Mirkarimi went to the police station to be booked and released, she went with him, conspicuously hand-in-hand. She has attempted at every turn to convince the police to not press charges. At Mirkarimi’s arraignment, she testified on his behalf saying she has no fear of her husband.
But all of her efforts went for naught.
San Francisco’s new sheriff pleaded not guilty to domestic violence and other charges Thursday as a judge ordered him to stay away from his wife and toddler son despite her tearful pleas not to keep the family apart…Mirkarimi’s lawyer, Robert Waggener, said his client had violated no laws.
Judge Susan Breall issued a stay-away order requiring Mirkarimi not to have any contact with his wife, Eliana Lopez, or their 2-year-old son.
“The violence against me is that I don’t have my family together,” Lopez said repeatedly in court. “Let me have my family together. This is the only reason I am here is that I have my family with Ross.”
“I don’t think there was a basis for a stay-away order. I don’t think the proper decision was made. We’ll come back and we’ll fight it,” Waggener said. “Mr. Mirkarimi did not commit domestic violence, he did not endanger his child, and he did not try to dissuade his wife from talking to the police or anybody else. That’s the bottom line.”Indeed, the judge pronounced herself satisfied that Mirkarimi is “a good person and a loving father.” But notwithstanding the facts that the alleged victim (a) wasn’t seriously hurt, (b) doesn’t want her husband prosecuted and (c) doesn’t want their son separated from his father, Big Brother knows best. Taxpayers’ money and the time of the court and its staff, Mirkarimi and his wife and various and sundry lawyers and police will be taken for – what? - a bruise that may or may not have been put on Lopez’s arm by her husband.
So yes, this case hits most of the high spots about how we pretend to deal with domestic violence. First, according to the DV industry, no case is so minor that it can be left alone. The entire panoply of police, courts and lawyers must be thrown at every case irrespective of whether it’s serious or not. That’s because our approach to DV stems from the movement’s ideology that holds that all DV escalates from minor pushes and shoves to serious injury or death.
As with most ideology, the facts doggedly refuse to agree. What countless studies and surveys show is that the vast majority of DV is both minor and a one-time or rare thing. As a major study done by the government of Scotland revealed, 1% of those asked had been a victim of DV in the previous year that resulted in more than just “a minor cut or bruise.”
That’s exactly what happened to Lopez, assuming again that Mirkarimi caused the bruise.
Likewise, any and every allegation of DV is sufficient to cause a court to order the alleged perpetrator to stay away from his children. Never mind that the child wasn’t harmed, never mind that neither wife nor child is in any danger as she herself has said many times. No, the new vision of the DV industry is that, if Daddy grabs Mommy’s arm, the child is scarred for life and must therefore be prevented from seeing his/her father.
Again, that’s arrant nonsense. It’s true that repeated serious domestic violence between mother and father can cause psychological damage to a child and possibly contribute to violence by that child as an adult. But the notion that Ross Mirkarimi’s child incurred injury by seeing (if he did) his father grab his mother’s arm (if he did) is absurd. Still, the restraining order issued anyway, so for the time being, the child will be without his father.
Then of course there’s the fact that it’s all done without due process of law, and possibly without evidence. After all, the one and only thing the police and prosecutors have to go on is a videotape of Lopez’s statements that are clearly hearsay. If Lopez doesn’t want to testify, and she shows every indication of exactly that, there is very likely no evidence whatsoever against Mirkarimi. And in any event, he’s had no opportunity to make a case in his defense. Still, he’s unable to see or speak to his wife or his child, or live in his own house.
Finally, there’s the fact, often overlooked, that a husband’s allegedly grabbing his wife’s arm is treated as a criminal matter. According to the law and the DV establishment, this incident is one to be solved by the police and courts. But what much psychology – to say nothing of common sense – shows is that domestic violence is rarely a matter of perpetrator and victim. On the contrary, it’s a family dynamic that can be addressed therapeutically if both parties are willing to admit thier roles and take part in changing that dynamic.
All of that is anathema to the DV industry that, like a windup toy, screams “blaming the victim” at any effort to inject actual science into the discussion of domestic violence. Criminal law of course traffics in perpetrators and victims in exactly the same way and, because of it, should play little role in our attempts to reduce domestic violence.