Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Importance of Privacy

The Times has posted a moving blog entry by Roselee Papandrea about the need for privacy in the criminal justice system. In this entry Papandrea discusses an incident that occurred while she was waiting in line at the magistrate's office.

I was behind the mother and daughter and her friend who were all in line. We were waiting for a magistrate in the Alamance County jail lobby. I wanted to get a glimpse of a search warrant that I believed was in the magistrate’s possession. During the 30-minute wait, I gradually learned why the woman was waiting for the magistrate behind what I think is bullet-proof glass.

Her friend complained a few times about the wait. It’s not that she minded accompanying her friend. She was concerned that because of the wait her friend would have second thoughts about reporting what brought her to a magistrate in the first place. They chatted briefly about what the woman’s husband might do in the next few days. I didn’t really want to listen – believe it or not – but I really didn’t have a choice. (Emphasis Added)

Papandrea goes on to reveal what happened when it was this woman's turn at the magistrate's window. She was forced to discuss what had happened to her while standing in the lobby within earshot of everyone who happened to be visiting that day. She also had to ask several times if filing charges was her only option. At one point she even said, "This is embarrassing. There is no privacy." Still, she was not offered a chance to move to a more private setting to complete the proceedings.

As I listened to the sound of her voice and the words she shared with a complete stranger, I became angry. She was saying she was a victim of domestic violence. If what she told the magistrate was true, she obviously had an extremely painful day. It upset me that the process meant to help her was adding to her hurt.

She was humiliated and embarrassed. I believe she would have felt that way if it was just her and the magistrate, but she also had to share her business with everybody waiting in the jail lobby. Her friend mentioned how spacious the lobby in the new jail is and wondered aloud why there couldn’t be a room – a private place – where someone in her friend’s predicament could tell her story. I wondered the same thing?

As Papandrea states later in her blog entry, the cycle of domestic violence is difficult to break and it is our civic duty to make the transition out of an abusive relationship as comfortable as possible. The magistrate's office where this occurred is not the only place victims of domestic violence are re-victimized by the criminal justice system. Please contact your local magistrate's office and your state legislators to let them know how important it is to provide a safe space for domestic violence victims to report their abusers.

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