Frustration was nothing new, not for any of them. Ms. Burns, who specializes in domestic violence, describes the criminal justice response to these crimes as ineffectual, like “putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds.” She spends much of her time scraping for evidence that can be admitted in court, but so many of the assaults she prosecutes take place behind closed doors, she said, that not guilty verdicts are common.
Ms. Neal’s suicide — the way she had slipped away from them — made this failure different, more agonizing.
“From the criminal justice side of it, we had a piece of paper telling Nelson not to contact her, that’s what we had,” Ms. Burns said. In domestic violence cases, she added, “the dynamics and the history are too deep” to be altered by “a piece of paper from a judge.”
Domestic violence cases are so challenging that some experts, like Rachel Teicher of John Jay College’s National Network for Safe Communities, argue that arrests and prosecutions are simply inadequate as a response, and should be supplemented with other kinds of interventions.
Perpetrators and victims become accustomed to a cycle — charges dismissed or reduced, restraining orders violated — and conclude, she said, that “these are systems I don’t have to take all that seriously.”
“The folks at the front lines are often using every tool they can,” she said. “Sometimes our tool kit isn’t big enough.”
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