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Courts need to take domestic violence seriously

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 23:02

 

A Florida man was sentenced to pick up flowers for his wife, buy her dinner at Red Lobster and then take her bowling after being arrested for domestic violence, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Joseph Bray, 47 was arrested on charges of domestic violence after he allegedly pushed his wife during an argument that began after she accused him of forgetting her birthday. Because she confirmed she wasn't injured and didn't fear a repeat incident, and because Bray also had no previous criminal record, Judge John Hurley considered the punishment fair based on what Bray's wife would have liked to do for her birthday, according to the New York Daily News.

However, instead of letting him off with any sort of punishment, such as probation or anger management, he was merely sentenced to buy her flowers and take her out on a date. Judge John Hurley also ordered that they begin marriage counseling within the week.

While it wasn't the most serious of cases involving  domestic violence, according to Hurley, the unusual punishment was inappropriate for a court of law. If such creative sentencing becomes a habit for judges, it could create a lack of fear in domestic violence perpetrators, in a field already too trivialized for its very serious content.

While being ordered to attend marital counseling can only be beneficial, the court should have stuck to a more traditional punishment appropriate for domestic violence for the rest of his sentence, not a reward.  And no matter how minimal the injuries to the victim, the punishment should have reflected the severe emotional consequences domestic violence can carry for the victim.

Such a case could set a frightening precedent. While the severity of domestic violence cases may differ, judges would have to draw a line between what they consider a minor incident and a major offense before deciding to provide a sentence for the crime.

Victims of domestic violence — who already face the challenges of coming forward to authorities with their stories and fear blame, disbelief and the possibility that legal authorities may not take them seriously — may have even more reason to keep quiet if situations like this continue.

In October, the City Council of Topeka, Kan., repealed a local law that makes domestic violence illegal, according to the New York Times, citing budget cuts as the reason why they could no longer afford to prosecute the misdemeanor cases and signaling to victims that their claims are on the bottom of the totem pole.

Due to the closeness of personal relations between domestic violence victims and their attackers, many victims fear reporting incidents. If victims feel that no punishment will be delivered on their account, it is possible they could be even less likely to report. More than one-fourth of domestic violence cases already go unreported, according to legalmatch.com.

Though Bray has no record and his wife did not fear a repeat attack, Bray has no reason to take the charges seriously if he is merely required to take his wife out on a date. Promoting such lackadaisical attitudes toward a serious subject does nothing to deter crimes that are serious and potentially dangerous. 

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