By Suzanne E. Tomkins and Remla Parthasarathy
Integrated Domestic Violence Court was created to have one judge oversee the many issues experienced by families when a member is charged with domestic violence and there is a current matrimonial or family court matter. By allowing a judge comprehensive knowledge of the circumstances of a family, IDV Court can promote consistent and fair handling of cases, as well as support the safety of victims and children.
This court was not created to hear only the most serious criminally charged cases. Most cases result in harassment charges, which are only violations. But dismissing the seriousness of these cases is a mistake, as some of the most recent domestic violence homicides in our county reveal.
For those trained to identify domestic violence patterns of power and control, the misdemeanor- or violation-level crimes of stalking experienced by ECMC nurse Jackie Wisniewski, recently killed by her ex-boyfriend, and the misdemeanors and violations committed by Muzzammil Hassan prior to murdering his wife Aasiya, are significant indicators of lethality. Separation assault is a well-documented phenomenon where individuals leaving abusive relationships are subjected to increased violence by their partners. When someone initiates divorce proceedings or takes actions to separate from their abuser, often the violence escalates and charges are filed.
Unfortunately, because these same individuals often succumb to violence or threats of violence by their partners, they either withdraw their petitions or refuse to testify. Surely, we are past the decades-old myth that victims act to create leverage in a divorce case. For some, leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time, and instead of discounting their actions as legal strategy, we should be providing additional resources to assist their safe escape.
According to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services, our state has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of domestic violence homicides from 2009 to 2010, the most recent reported data. It attributes this to increases in minor child and other family homicides. This reflects the complex nature of domestic violence and the importance of having one judge presiding over all relevant matters facing these families.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Instead of halting the prosecution of misdemeanors and violations, we should be discussing the court's many benefits, address any concerns and think of ways to enhance IDV Court's ability to meet its goals. We need to work together to make sure people are safe in their own homes.
Suzanne E. Tomkins and Remla Parthasarathy are faculty at University at Buffalo Law School. They lecture on domestic violence and present on this topic locally, nationally and internationally.