Penalizing the VictimThere has been much publicity about...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

October 05, 1992

Penalizing the Victim

There has been much publicity about the difficulties facing victims of domestic violence who try to seek help. On Sept. 2, I had occasion to witness one example.

I accompanied a former client to a Baltimore County criminal court. The case before hers involved a young woman, accompanied by her three small children, whose husband had threatened to kill her the previous evening.

She described abusive behavior that had escalated over the last four years of her marriage. Because she had fled her home for a shelter that morning, however, the judge said he was unable to issue any kind of protective order against her husband.

What was appalling was not just the impotency of the laws but the judge's treatment of the woman. He questioned her repeatedly, with blatant sarcasm, as to why she had stayed with her husband and why now, "all of a sudden," she wanted help.

He used the existence of her children as a basis for skepticism ("I guess you did 'forgive and forget' -- you kept having his kids.")

When she described her financial situation, his response was, "Oh great. He's in college and you're home on unemployment having babies. Great."

All of this was said, loudly, in front of a courtroom of strangers. Finally, the judge repeated that there was nothing he could do for her and suggested that perhaps she get a lawyer.

I have been a counselor for several agencies and I understand burn-out. I know that people abuse our legal system. I have accompanied clients on domestic violence cases only to find out a week later that the courtroom had been just one more game in an immature relationship.

I also know, however, that there are many desperate women trapped in a legal system that offers them little or no protection.

For a judge to be so cynical that he can only further humiliate such women indicates either that he is very ignorant of the complexities of domestic violence or that he has been at his job too long.

I notified a domestic violence center of this judge's behavior. This center, like many others, gathers such information in the hope of educating professionals involved in domestic violence cases.

I encourage others to report similar incidences of mistreatment so that victims of domestic violence can be sure that their suffering will end once they enter our legal system.

Carrie Armstrong Montague

Owings Mills

Cheers

Three cheers to the Maryland League of Women Voters for its position regarding one's right to personal choice.

From a global perspective, the league remains an incredibly informed, research-oriented group.

John R. Allen III

Denton

Silent Tribute

I was one among thousands who pulled off the Beltway to stand in silent tribute to the fallen Baltimore police officer.

All of us were on our separate missions bound, suddenly drawn to a rolling sea of flashing blue lights.

Then it hit us. And one by one, we slowed and pulled off on the highway's shoulders -- luxury cars, subcompacts and station wagons, working trucks of every size. Executives stood next to denim-clad truck drivers and students: an impromptu, militia honor guard for the fallen.

Police cruisers and unmarked cars endlessly streamed by. I could delay no longer. Yet even as I rejoined the flow, another traveler pulled in to take my vigil. I hope the police officers took comfort from our show of support. I pray for them.

I'm not sure why I stopped, or even in the long run, if it counts for anything. But I'm left to wonder: Whether hurricane, famine or fallen hero, why is it we are at our very best when things are at their worst?

Michael A. Waller

Randallstown

Death Penalty

The recent call for reinstitution of the death penalty in Maryland is a barbaric response to barbaric acts.

While we are disheartened by the recent loss of Officer Ira Weiner and the severe injuries of Officer James Young, calling forth the death penalty does not cancel out their misfortunes. With all due respect to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, this brutal response to a heartless act is not the answer.

The only logical argument which I have heard in support of the death penalty is that the specific individual executed will never commit another crime. That is true.

But I've heard no persuasive argument counter to my two practical points: Is it not hypocritical for a society to kill a killer for killing? And, is the crime rate decreasing now that America executes again?

The mayor knows that the roots of the behavior which led to these misfortunes are deep.

Children raised without decent housing, health care and education are often angry. Where do we draw the line between a needy child and an angry, murderous adult?

Do you execute a 16-year-old murderer? How about a 12-year-old? If society would truly focus on these earlier years, then society would not have to resort to an act for which it condemns others.

Officer Weiner's life was sacrificed in society's ever-expanding war against crime. Executing criminals does him no good.

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