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Gender-Based Violence

The War on Drugs Failed. It’s Time for a War on Abuse.

by Natalie Schreyer and Jessica KleinJun 15, 2018

This article was originally published in CNN.

Two days before she was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head on May 3 of this year, Anako Lumumba told police that her ex-boyfriend was stalking and threatening her. This wasn’t the first time Leroy Headley had been accused of domestic abuse. Lumumba had said he pushed her when she was pregnant in 2005, the Burlington Free Press reports. Late last year, he threatened to “blow my head off,” she told police.

Natalie Shreyer

Natalie Shreyer

Jessica Klein

Jessica Klein

Despite 160 encounters with police in 15 years, according to the Free Press, Headley has never been convicted of a crime. He is now at large — an alleged abuser roaming free.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump granted clemency to Alice Johnson, a grandmother who was serving a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. She had been living behind bars for over 20 years.
Had Headley’s crime been drug use, instead of violent abuse, his fate — and Lumumba’s — could have been very different. The government has vigorously pursued a flawed “war on drugs.” It’s time to devote those efforts to a fight that can really make a difference: a war on abuse.
Lumumba is just one of many domestic violence victims whose abusers remain free to continue to threaten lives while the government spends more than $50 billion each year on a decades-long “war on drugs” that has contributed to mass incarceration and millions of arrests of nonviolent offenders for drug possession.
Thousands of Americans are locked up in state prisons for drug possession. But strangling, punching or slamming your partner into a wall? Often that means a suspended sentence, probation, or case dismissed.
In 2015, 1,686 women were murdered by men in the United States, and the vast majority of them were killed by someone they knew, according to the Violence Policy Center, a research and advocacy group working to end gun death and injury. That same year, there were over 800,000 incidents of intimate partner violence, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
While there are only around 200 domestic violence courts in the country, the United States is, according to the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, home to more than 3,100 drug courts, many of which focus on nonviolent, low-level offenders — addicts who need medical treatment more than criminal punishment.

Natalie Schreyer is a reporter at the Fuller Project for International Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that covers issues impacting women and girls globally. She is working on “Abused in America,” a Fuller Project initiative to cover domestic violence in the United States. Jessica Klein is a journalist and co-author of the book “Abetting Batterers: What Police, Prosecutors, and Courts Aren’t Doing to Protect America’s Women.” The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.

Unlike most courtrooms, domestic violence courts employ judges, prosecutors, and victim advocates who specialize in intimate partner abuse. They are largely concentrated in New York and California, with multiple courts in Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina, according to a 2009 report from the Center for Court Innovation. A mentor court initiative announced by the DOJ in 2013 cites three domestic violence courts in New York, Idaho, and Texas as models.
Domestic violence cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute, often because it’s daunting for victims who live in fear of their abusers to testify. It takes trained judges, prosecutors, and advocates to address the unique circumstances presented by domestic violence, making dedicated courts a key part of protecting victims and stopping abusers.
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