The uses and abuses of the term ‘domestic violence’ are many and varied – almost too many to count. The simple expansion of the term over the years to include not just violence that results in some form of injury (no matter how slight) but any behavior that could possibly suggest the desire to “control” another’s behavior, could fill a book.
And of course claims of domestic violence have long been acknowledged by family attorneys to be used routinely as a tactic for gaining the upper hand in child custody matters. And why not? After all, they’re highly effective and since family courts can be counted on to avoid serious scrutiny of DV claims, it would be strange indeed if we didn’t see a proliferation of them.
That was one of the very telling sidelights to the ongoing case of Jeffrey and Kristin Ruggiero. Almost three years ago, Kristin leveled some spurious charges (telephone harassment, stalking, etc.) at Jeff in order to cut him out of their daughter’s life.
That worked like a charm in family court, but the police weren’t convinced. They eventually dropped all charges against Jeff and charged Kristin with 12 counts of perjury and other offenses on all of which she was duly convicted last year.
One of the most amazing aspects of the case was a casual remark made by the assistant county attorney who gained the 12 felony convictions of Kristin.
[He] said Ruggiero’s folly came because claims in criminal court had to be backed up — unlike in family court where she made repeated claims about ex-husband’s behavior.
“Unfortunately for her, we’re not in family court anymore,” Blanchard said.
That’s about as frank an indictment of DV claims in family courts as you can get. What Assistant County Attorney Jerome Blanchard’s words reveal is that, in family court, allegations of DV are routinely equated with proof of DV. That is, unlike in criminal court, the don’t have to be “backed up” with actual evidence.
The point being that in certain areas of public discourse and affairs, the words “domestic violence” have become a kind of magical incantation. Like something out of a Harry Potter novel, simply saying the words causes all sorts of things to happen, and quite predictably.
That, I suspect is exactly what’s going on in the Buddy Tavares case that’s become a kind of cause célèbre in British Columbia. Here’s a recent article about it (Vancouver Sun, 1/25/11).
Back last August, Buddy Tavares had a serious motorcycle accident. He broke multiple ribs, a leg and so forth. He’s barely recovered. So recently the police stopped him while he was driving his pickup truck. This video shows what happened next (YouTube).
Tavares got out of his truck and sank to his knees on the pavement apparently because of continuing problems from his accident. He then gradually moved forward onto his elbows at which point one of the brave officers of the RCMP kicked him in the face. He’s then forced face down on the pavement, his face resting in a pool of his own blood, courtesy of the kick. He’s then handcuffed and led away to spend the weekend in jail.
Why? Well, what the police are heard to say on the tape is that he’s got a firearm (shotgun) in his truck and they seem to believe he’s violated laws related thereto. The female officer asks Tavares if he understands that he’s “under arrest for possession of a firearm.”
But lo and behold, by the time he’s released from police custody, they’ve got another theory of the case. They claim he discharged the shotgun “in relation to a domestic violence incident that’s still under investigation.” Funny that they didn’t mention that earlier.
Their failure to do so may stem from the fact that, according to both Buddy and his wife Trudy, there was no domestic violence incident. Here’s a video of Trudy disclaiming any and all DV by Buddy (YouTube). She says, “he didn’t threaten me, touch me, hurt me or anything.”
Where’d the DV claim come from? It’s beginning to look like it came from the police. Stated another way, they were caught on tape kicking a man in the face who was offering no resistance whatsoever and in fact had assumed the most classic posture of submission.
So, they reached for the nearest red herring to hand and sure enough it’s our old friend domestic violence. And again, why not? Its effectiveness at entirely obscuring and indeed substituting itself for real issues in a wide variety of cases is by now well established.
Should we be surprised then that the police more or less instinctively turn to domestic violence to try to paint Buddy Tavares as deserving of what he got. Kicking a man in the face who’s done nothing more than possess a shotgun won’t win you many friends. But roughing up a man who “batters” his wife? Ah, that’s another story entirely.
And the fact that the claim is apparently made-up – this time by police – is counted on by them to be lost in our perpetual fog of indignation about domestic violence..