Maybe I’m naive, but two questions gnawed at me as I began reporting my story in Friday’s paper about the District Court judge who married a man suspected of domestic violence to his alleged victim on the day of trial:
1) Why would a victim agree to marry her alleged abuser?
2) Why would she not testify against him?
Prosecutor Stephen Roscher, who heads the family violence division in the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office, summed it up.
“The internal dynamic when we deal with domestic violence victims is completely different than any other crime,” he said.
He and Dorothy Lennig, director of the House of Ruth‘s legal clinic, cited a number of potential contributing factors. Their list is similar to the one offered by the National Center for Victims of Crime.
“Domestic violence is about power and control,” Lennig said.
Knowing that, Roscher has worked with county police on domestic violence case protocol for more than a decade and regularly talks to new recruits about the topic. The strategy, which has been adopted across the country, is to “assume the victim is not going to be cooperative at the time of the trial,” Roscher said.
That’s why police thoroughly document a suspected domestic violence crime scene and get a statement and photos of the victim. That’s why 911 calls are analyzed for “excited utterances” (which can be admitted in court, even though they’re hearsay) and for anything out of the ordinary, Roscher said.
All of this allows Roscher to prosecute a case even without the victim taking the witness stand. It can be challenging, he said, but it’s never impossible.
“There’s never been a murder case where the victim has testified,” Roscher said.