Victims of domestic violence face one of the most emotionally fraught dilemmas of any crime victim: seeking justice for a violent crime against them by someone they love, trust or depend upon.
Helping these victims get through the prosecution of their abusers without causing more trauma is among the greatest challenges that face the 17 prosecutors assigned to the District Attorney’s Family Violence Division.
“The ongoing relationship between the abuser and victim in a domestic violence case is what makes the work of a Family Violence Division prosecutor different from other types of cases the office prosecutes,” said Joanne Baeza, head deputy district attorney of the division, pictured right, with Lesley Klein, her assistant head deputy district attorney.
In the past 12 months, the division reviewed more than 3,400 cases. Roughly 750 cases resulted in criminal charges being filed by the office, and hundreds of misdemeanor cases were sent to city prosecutors’ offices for review.
Baeza noted that maintaining the cooperation of victims who have been assaulted by their partner is an enormous task. In numerous cases, the victim forgives the abuser before the case goes to trial and doesn’t want to testify. Sometimes victims fear that they and their children will suffer financially or even become homeless if their abuser goes to prison.
In cases involving children, the victims may be so young that they cannot testify against the abusers.
Family Violence Division prosecutors receive special training to handle both legal and practical issues they face in their cases. Successful outcomes often require utilizing resources and witnesses that prosecutors may not need in a non-familial case, Baeza said.
When a victim is no longer cooperating, prosecutors may need to dig through volumes of documents to find corroborating evidence.