As state legislatures struggle to balance their budgets in the face of a nationwide, cumulative deficit of $40 billion and the worst budget crisis since World War II, domestic violence victims in states such as Virginia are the ones paying the price. Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Bryant announced late last month that prosecutors will no longer handle misdemeanor domestic violence cases. As of early December, victims of domestic violence must go it alone in court.
“I deeply regret that the victims of domestic abuse will not have a prosecutor on their side, while the defendants will be able to retain their own attorneys or have attorneys appointed for them if they are considered indigent,” Bryant said in a statement, as reported in The Virginian-Pilot.
Misdemeanor domestic violence cases involve the use, or attempted use, of physical force (simple assault, assault and battery). In what is commonly known as the cycle of violence, domestic abuse often starts out with incidents reported as misdemeanor cases and spirals into more serious incidents – about 1 in 5 women victimized by their spouse or ex-spouse report that they were the victim of a series of similar crimes and sustained at least three assaults within six months, according to the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women.
Bryant told The Pilot that his office prosecutes approximately 2,000 of these cases each year. Statewide, domestic violence hotlines in Virginia respond to approximately 21,000 calls from family violence victims this year, and an additional 21,000 calls from friends, family members and professionals working with victims. Shelters provided safe refuge for 3,756 women and 3,636 children for an average stay of nearly three weeks at a time. However, 4,706 families who request shelter are turned away – or 56 percent of the total number of families seeking shelter.