Fighting Domestic Violence in Civil Court Deborah Martin successfully sued her ex-husband last week for domestic violence. The jury ordered Martin's ex-husband to pay her more than $500,000 for medical bills and damages.
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Fighting Domestic Violence in Civil Court

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Fighting Domestic Violence in Civil Court


Fighting Domestic Violence in Civil Court

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Deborah Martin has done what few woman have: she sued her husband after he beat her savagely. A jury awarded her half a million dollars. We'll speak with Deborah Martin in a moment.

First though, we turn to Jeffrey Dion. He's Director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association and an expert on domestic violence. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JEFFREY DION (Director, National Crime Victim Bar Association): Thank you. It's good to be with you.

BRAND: Now, civil suits in murder cases are quite common. I'm thinking O.J. Simpson, for example. He was sued by the family of his ex-wife after being found not guilty in the criminal trial.

So why is it relatively rare for victims of domestic violence to seek monetary damages?

Mr. DION: Oftentimes, victims of domestic violence aren't aware that they have civil remedies available to them. And there's a great deal of shame associated with domestic violence.

It's an underreported crime, and victims are often reluctant to be involved in the legal system, especially if they were involved in the criminal justice system and they didn't feel that it turned out very well.

BRAND: And why is that they're not aware that they can pursue a civil suit?

Mr. DION: Well, I think it is relatively new. And we're just now seeing more and more victims becoming aware, and more lawyers becoming aware of the civil remedies that are available to victims.

Over the last several years, most states have done away with spousal immunity, and those laws prevented spouses from suing one another. Now that we've removed that prohibition, victims of domestic violence are free to bring civil suits against their batterer and hold them accountable for the damages that they've caused.

BRAND: Can't criminal courts award damages to the victim?

Mr. DION: Usually, no. When someone is criminally prosecuted and if someone's convicted and sent to jail, they're said to be paying their debt to society.

In the civil case, it's about paying their debt to the victim for the harm that they've caused. The amounts of restitution that can be ordered are very low, and often are not sufficient to compensate the victim for the financial damages she's had.

The single most important factor of whether or not a victim will be able to permanently separate from her abuser and establish an independent household is her access to economic resources. And being a victim of domestic violence can create tremendous financial burdens on victims. Every year, we associate million of dollars for medical expenses related to domestic violence - almost $90 million a year for lost pay and stolen property.

For individual victims, it could be tens of thousands of dollars for the property that has been destroyed, and thousands of dollars to relocate and try and get away from their batterer.

BRAND: Jeffrey Dion is the Director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. DION: Thank you for having me.

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