Domestic Violence - When to Prosecute

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The abusers in incidents of domestic violence are often guilty of violating Missouri law when they torment their victims.

Victims can be put in a situation in which they may face their abuser in court and feel its their word against that of the abuser.

KOLR10 News visited with the Greene County Prosecutor to see what the office does to console victims and bring abusers to justice.

"Instead of treating me as something precious, we were treated as property," said "Lisa," a domestic violence victim.

Lisa once took a leap of faith with her children to leave her ex-husband without any legal protections in place. Leaving initially made matters worse.

"Eventually, he was convicted or pleaded guilty to a sexual assault as well as adult aggravated stalking," she said.

With her ex-husbands acts against her family now a criminal matter, probation violation hearings in Greene County became a regular event on her calendar. 

"He continued to defy his probation, walk through orders of protection," Lisa said. "And it has been 5 years of being in the justice system, being a victim that is willing to testify, that is willing to cooperate with the prosecutor, that is willing to stand up and testify in court knowing that you're going to be cross-examined by a public defender or a defense attorney."

"Domestic violence cases are complicated because of the power and control the batterer exerts over the victims," said Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson. "And victims many times know when best to protect themselves, in terms of when to call the police for immediate protection and when not to upset their batterer by cooperating with prosecution."

Each time a domestic violence case comes to the special victims unit in Patterson's office, those attorneys have decisions to make. The victim may still love their abuser and be reluctant to proceed, or their safety may be compromised by cooperating.

"Our victim advocates as well as advocates from Harmony House and the victim center and others in the community will work with victims so they can be empowered to make decisions that are best for their own safety, engage in safety planning and put themselves in a place where they feel safe and comfortable cooperating with a prosecution," Patterson said.

Prosecutors have a whole gamut of charges they can file under Missouri law based on the evidence, from a misdemeanor typically resulting in probation up to a serious felony.

In the less serious cases, Patterson can usually get the abuser to attend batterers' intervention programs.

"Many times that's what victims will tell us," Patterson said. "They don't want their batterer to go to jail or prison, what they want is to get them help so that they'll stop committing these offenses against them."

Since the courts have to also protect the rights of the accused, Patterson said his office has improved over the last 5-10 years in gathering concrete evidence in these cases.

"Using things such as recorded jail calls and other admissions, other witnesses, we've been able to prosecute cases where the defendants from jail or outside are actively seeking to discourage or threaten their victims from not cooperating in cases," Patterson said. "In utilizing that evidence-based prosecution, we've been able to secure convictions and send some very dangerous offenders to prison who have otherwise maybe not been able to have been prosecuted."

"Eventually after 5 and 6 and 7 of those [hearings], there will be that time that the judge will be fed up," Lisa said. "I remember the judge saying: I realize today what this woman realized years ago and that's that you don't want to change, and we can't change you."

Lisa feels there were too many slaps on the wrist over those 5 years, but her abuser is now in the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections until 2019.

"You have everything to gain, and nothing left to lose," Lisa said. "So definitely come forward, and find that inner strength. It's in there, but it's been beat down. And you've got to come forward and start using your voice. It doesn't mean you're not going to have rough days. But it means you're going to start claiming your life back for you and your children one court hearing at a time."

This year, Patterson said his office got a grant from the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to hire a victim advocate to focus solely on domestic violence cases. All of the judicial circuits in the state were able to get funding to hire someone for this position.

See all of our special reports on domestic violence in the Ozarks here.

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