fight, domestic violence

Don’t hit your partner.  Don’t hit your spouse. Don’t hit your ex-spouse.  Don’t hit your roommate, your mother, your ex-roommate, your father, your sister, your foster parents or your brother.  There is a special hell for people who hit those people in their lives.  Its called Title 21 Oklahoma Statutes Section 644 ( C ).  It’s called the domestic abuse statute.  It requires that if convicted of domestic abuse you will have to complete 52 weeks of Batterer’s Treatment, as well as family, couples or parenting classes, perhaps be in the county jail for up to a year, and that’s just for your FIRST offense!  It gets worse if it happens again!

Every year some politician who wants to get elected (or re-elected) makes some promise to “get tough on domestic violence”.  These people are playing on the fact that almost everyone except professional football players hate violence.  And what we all picture when we hear the words “Domestic Violence” is this big, sweaty, unshaven guy in a “wife-beater’ shirt smacking his helpless, frail wife around.  So we vote for that guy to save the poor helpless wives of Oklahoma.

I want to start by saying that those guys in the “wife-beater” exist.  And there are some who victimize their wives.  I do not wish to minimize that suffering.  But my experience has been that the stereotype we all jump to in our minds is not the most common situation.  It’s not always the man who does the beating.  It’s not always clear cut about who the “victim” is.  My experience has also been that there are two sides to every story. 

These are true cases I have dealt with in my practice:  A woman who terrorized their milquetoast husband.  She called the police every time he wouldn’t do something she wanted done and told the police he beat her.   This man couldn’t go fishing because it was cruel.  I represented him several times.

There was a man who claimed that she ‘hit me with a lamp” when, in fact, the lamp fell off the table when he shoved her into the nightstand during an argument.  “Well, “ he told me. “I didn’t want to go to jail…”

I have represented several men and women who swore to me that their spouse or significant other would hit or cut themselves!  They did this to have “evidence” of being abused to show the police.  I didn’t believe any of those clients until I met two separate women who admitted to me that this is how they treated their partner.  One of them told me about hitting herself with a skillet several times so she would have “good’ bruises.   

There are evidently lots of really good people, men and women, who become quite angry and dangerous when they are drunk.  They have done all sorts of cruel and ugly things when intoxicated.  I have represented several of them.

There are men and women who are trapped in what is called by psychologists the Circle of Violence:  They argue with their significant other.  It escalates to a fist fight or one of them attacks the other.  When they are hit, abused, shouted at, or thrown out of the house, they will generally come back and ask forgiveness or to resume the relationship.  A counselor for a local shelter for battered women says that usually their clients leave the relationship and return seven times before they will leave for good.  They could leave.  They just don’t.  And the Circle of Violence continues…

I am a lawyer.  My job is not to counsel or “fix’ these people.  Only they can do that for themselves.  I try to advise my clients to address the underlying problems that are creating their mess.  If they are in need of recovery from drug or alcohol problems we try to address that.  If they have anger issues, we have found that good counselors, working with a willing client, can provide wonderful tools to avoid violence.  Sometimes that best thing I can tell people is that they are in a really sick relationship and maybe, just maybe, they should look elsewhere for companionship.  Sometimes, people in a regularly violent relationship have to learn that they have choices.  Not all of them realize that.

When I was a new lawyer, I could not imagine representing a “wife beater”.  How disgusting.  I asked my new boss, “How can you represent those criminals?”  His answer has stuck with me for twenty years.  “I hope I prevent more crimes from happening by handling the case right.”

Everyone deserves a voice.  Everyone is entitled to have someone speak on their behalf.  Everyone needs someone who will have respect for and be honest with them in their darkest hour.  I get the honor of being that person for many.

I love my job.

[As usual: Don’t say nothin’ without your attorney!  And remember: There are only two things to say to a cop: “Officer, am I under arrest?” and “I am?  I want my lawyer.” or  “No?  Then may I go now?”  Say it loud, say it proud, in four part harmony and in color!]

Robert B. Carter, Attorney at Law