Where are we? Is this America? These are the questions I have been pondering this week after yet another victim of domestic violence has reached out to me for help.
Let's talk about Michigan--I thought Crime Victims Board in NYS was bad. I will say this again, every state Crime Victims Compensation Program must create a specialized DV unit to handle domestic violence crimes. Pooling together crime victim applications does not work. First come, first serve works at Burger King, but it doesn't cut it with state programs designed to assist victims in need--some more than others. I hope NYS at least takes my suggestions into account, and leads the way for other states with flawed programs for DV victims.
Meet my latest DV victim, she lives is Michigan--she is about to be thrown into jail and leave her small child with her abuser, an abuser that beats his 6 yr. old son and gets away with it (Child Protective Services will not remove the child from the home--not enough details). No, this woman has done nothing wrong, she is just in a horrible situation, no money, no health insurance, no job, and no DV lawyer--typical situations battered women find themselves in over time. In 1998, this Michigan victim was beaten into disability, and since, has been unable to work due to her chronic back injury. Her local shelter, Sylvia's Place, cannot find her a free attorney, so this woman is on her own and represents herself in court. A few months ago, this woman had major back surgery due to domestic violence and could not appear in court, one of the reasons she faces jail time in the near future. She also can't pay child support because she doesn't work and her abuser cut off her health insurance, so she is looking at major medical bills that she cannot pay. There are many problems here, one being that her local shelter cannot get her an attorney. This is a major problem for DV victims, they need to have access to free lawyers provided by their shelters (who do get state funds to provide these services to victims). The second problem here is this: Crime Victim Services Commission in Michigan turned her away when she tried to apply for compensation. The State Crime Victims Services office told her that it was too late and the crime happened too many years ago, despite the fact that she is still having surgery due to this crime in 2009 and is struggling to survive.
Let me teach Crime Victim Services of Michigan about domestic violence. Domestic Violence is an intimate, complicated, calculated crime against an innocent victim that is always struggling with fear of retaliation from their abuser. Sometimes it even takes disabled, battered, broken women 10 years to report and admit abuse, even to state programs. This doesn't mean they don't deserve state assistance for a crime that was committed against them, a crime that they are still being physically punished for.
On my NYS CVB brochure (and I realize this is for NYS) it clearly states:
Anyone who has been the victim of a criminal offense and has suffered injuries, economic losses or damages can seek restitution. Many times, victims who deserve restitution do not request it. This can occur because victims are not aware that they are entitled to restitution, or do not know what steps to take to go about receiving the restitution they deserve.
I am sure this woman would attempt to seek restitution if she had a free DV lawyer on her side provided by her shelter. Although, when I asked my free DV lawyer for restitution this year, I was denied it because lawyers do not think it's appropriate to ask for money in a restraining order case--this is what I was told, and that these requests usually get denied by the Judge. So, while victims do have the right to ask for restitution, it is complicated. And if you don't have a criminal case, which many victims don't due to the statute of limitations/fear of retaliation for pressing charges, then it's harder to ask for restitution in a Family Court. While one may be entitled to restitution, there are barriers that prevent the victim from collecting from the abuser. The only other option, the last resort, is to try to get compensation from state programs like Crime Victim Services Commission, and when they deny victims too, situations only get worse for these women. Victims run out of money, can't support their children, wind up in and out of court, in and out of doctor's offices, and before they know it--they're broke and can't even pay for electric. This is reality...I thought I would bring everyone back to earth with this post.