Greg Diehl, Published July 31 2010
Weiler situation troublingFor the past 17 months, we have followed one of North Dakota’s domestic violence cases with more than passing interest.
The case involved a member of the North Dakota House of Representatives. Rep. David Weiler, R-Bismarck, pleaded guilty to charges filed the first time he was reported to police. His wife, Nicole Weiler, reported a second domestic assault last March; she recanted earlier this month.
While there are circumstances surrounding this case that we do not know, there are many characteristics of domestic violence that are very clear. Domestic violence involves a pattern of behavior rather than a one-time incident.
When survivors recant allegations of abuse, it is often out of fear of retaliation from their abusers rather than a lack of evidence. Perpetrators in domestic violence cases – whether men or women – are attempting to control their victims. Prosecutors have the opportunity to help prevent future incidents of domestic violence by using their power to charge and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
Knowing there is the likelihood that the victim may recant his/her testimony, the evidence collected by law enforcement plays a major role in the prosecutor’s case. By building a strong case, law enforcement and the prosecutor may be able to reduce the risk of retaliation by the perpetrator against the victim, as well as increase the chances of a successful prosecution.
The time between the report and the prosecution of the case is a time of heightened danger for the victim in domestic violence cases. Women are at the highest risk of death after they have left an abuser. In North Dakota, there were eight domestic violence- related deaths in 2009 and, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, three women die every day at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.
Remember that violence in an intimate relationship is different from other acts or threats of violence. The perpetrator feels the need to control, dominate and manipulate the relationship, whether it be a marriage or a dating relationship. Domestic violence is intense and ugly; emotions are elevated, angry and hateful; and threatening words are said, objects are thrown, pushing and punching takes the place of words, and in some cases weapons are used. Physical, verbal, emotional and other forms of abuse are simply tools to exert power over the victim.
In the days and weeks following a domestic violence incident or report, the intensity of the situation is likely to subside and the victim may find herself under pressure to “back off.” Victims can be hard on themselves and may rationalize the situation coming to conclusions such as “maybe it wasn’t that bad,” or “maybe I caused it.” At the same time, many perpetrators will offer explanations, apologies and gifts in attempts to salvage a relationship or persuade the victim to change her story/drop charges. Well-meaning friends, neighbors and relatives may offer their opinions, such as “he’s really a good guy,” or “if you go through with this, you’ll ruin his career,” or the classic “you need to keep it together for the kids.” This guilt trip often results in a victim recanting.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence please contact the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center (701) 293-7273 or (800) 344-7273, the crisis agency in your community, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline number at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
Diehl is executive director, Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead.