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Charlotte Amalie
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Accountability

Oct. 1, 2008 – Accountability in cases of Domestic Abuse is possible only when there is an ability to impose swift, consistent, and meaningful sanctions for the abusive behavior, a role that rests primarily, if not exclusively, with the criminal and civil justice systems. This requires both adequate staffing of both Judicial and prosecutorial offices, as well as advanced education on domestic violence dynamics. Knowledge of the characteristics of both victims and perpetrators is also requisite to producing true accountability.
Presently, here in the territory, we have one prosecutor exclusively devoted to domestic abuse on St. Thomas, and none on St. Croix. Ideally, there would be two such attorneys in each district. The commitment, enthusiasm, knowledge base, and success rates in holding abusers accountable differ dramatically between those specialized domestic violence prosecutors and more generalized prosecutors, or those whose specialty is in another area.
Further, few, if any of our judges, both on the criminal and or civil family courtside have received specialized training in domestic abuse. The claim from judges here has been that they do not wish to prejudice themselves in favor of victims…but the questions arise as to why judges throughout the country do not fear that (as most participate regularly in such training) or, who among us is in favor of domestic abuse? To be against domestic violence is not to be prejudice on any single case, since they all differ, and not everyone accused is guilty of such abuse. The appropriate response of the courts in dealing with abusers is to impose sentences of incarceration, probation, restitution, or fine, or some combination of these. When possible, participation in a Batterers Intervention (not Anger Management) Program may be part of a coordinated sentence. Abusers should neither be referred to nor mandated to dispute mediation, mental health services, or substance abuse services as a response to the domestic violence, and to do so is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the dynamics of abuse. Providers in all these systems should be referring cases back to the Court for appropriate adjudication.
All substance abuse providers should be trained on the issue of domestic abuse. Training should be thorough and ongoing. This is equally true of all mental health service providers. Without this training, we may be guilty of providing excuses for perpetrators' coercive and violent behavior while, without meaning to, not providing the strategies for intervention that promote victim safety.
Culturally, as I have pointed out before, we are among the most tolerant of people in some arenas, and among the most judgmental in others. We appear to have achieved such a tolerance to domestic abuse that perpetrators are seldom held accountable for their behavior. The message we are inadvertently giving them, by this tolerance, is that it is acceptable, within the Virgin Islands, to continue to abuse your partner and/or your children. Knowing what we now know about the dire affects of domestic abuse upon children, it is no surprise to see the escalation of youth violence in our streets. So, while we decry youth violence, we refuse to examine its root causes, and our responsibility for its perpetuation.
Coordinated efforts are of particular importance to effectively reinforce abuser accountability. Any player in the "team" coming together to deal with these issues must accept the responsibility to report any violation of court mandates for perpetrators, any violation of any term of the sentence, or any new domestic violence offence to the sentencing court or the Probation or Parole Department.
Coordination is the key to the success of victims in developing and implementing successful safety plans, and reducing the startling number of victims of domestic abuse. The community, including its young people, needs to know that alcohol and/or other drug use does not cause domestic violence and will not be accepted as an excuse for such behavior. Accountability for violence needs to be reinforced at every opportunity.
Until we unite in our commitment to end domestic and sexual abuse in this territory, we will continue to see various messages to abusers that we do not take their actions seriously, and that there are few if any consequences to their behavior. As long as those attitudes continue, we must not be surprised at the degree and severity of the violence in the territory.

Editor's note: Dr. Iris Kern is a special advisor to the attorney general and police commissioner in areas of domestic and sexual abuse.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to visource@gmail.com.

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