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Shifting the Perception of Domestic Violence

An Orange County woman won a measure of justice after years of waiting. Her ex-husband received a 20-year prison term followed by 10 years of probation for hitting her in the head and attempting to choke her. Reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson case, the defendant made headlines as he held off police for hours in a residential area.

The hard-fought case came after several setbacks. Prosecutors delayed filing charges. The victim was chastised by the courts when she asked for an order of protection. The defendant acted as his own lawyer, which enabled him to contact his wife. Her home was demolished by tear gas, so she rented a room in another home after her divorce. But at 58, the woman found the courage within to press through. She doesn't think she could have persevered if she were younger.

During the first six months of 2012, domestic-violence homicides increased 29 percent from those in 2011 in Florida. One professor observed that many victims don't even contact the police and cited the complexities of domestic violence dynamics.

Statistics also document that 92 percent of individuals who are arrested for domestic violence do not receive any penalties. Failure to prosecute equates to high costs for taxpayers in the form of police, incarceration and 911 workers. Offenders realize they can get away with committing a crime.

A few weeks before the sentence in question, another offender was caught on tape as he attempted to strangle and pummel his girlfriend. He received a sentence of less than a year in custody but then appealed and won a reduced sentence.

An Orange County domestic violence commission is looking into the problem of little to no consequences for offenders. Commission members admit there has been some progress, such as increased training efforts in handling domestic violence cases, the availability of GPS monitoring in some cases and online legal forms that victims can print out and bring to court.

Advocates insist that the key is a paradigm shift in the perception of domestic violence. The crime is minimized or punished with lenient sentences. Victims are sometimes blamed for the abuse. 

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