As a domestic violence coordinator with the Fairfax County Police Department, Jacqi Smith has seen a lot of strange cases.
Like the man who was separated from his wife, but stuck small pin cameras in the filters of two fans and an alarm clock, so he could watch what she was up to. From the basement, he would watch everything she did.
On Feb. 21, Smith gave a presentation on domestic violence to a small group of local residents at a Sully District Citizens Advisory Committee meeting. Each district within the Fairfax County Police Department has a domestic violence police coordinator, to coordinate with social services, enforce emergency protective orders and advocate for victims in the courts. Smith explained what sort of things she encounters on the job, what generally happens when police make an arrest, and the court process.
"Unfortunately with domestic violence we get a lot of uncooperative victims," Smith said. If an officer has probable cause to believe that a domestic assault has occurred, they are required by law to make an arrest. By the time the case gets to court, though—usually about six weeks after the assault—about half of victims change their minds about pressing charges, she said.
"That's a lot of time for the abuser to be doing this, this, this in their person's ear saying, 'don't press charges, baby I love you, I'm so sorry, this is never going to happen again, I promise,' whatever," she said.
"By the time they get to court, they want to move on, they don't want the abuser to get in trouble. It might mean lack of income for them. It might mean lack of help in the home as far as children. Some people are worried about deportation," she said.
Once a case is taken to court, prosecutors will often show photos of bruises and submit tapes of recorded 911 calls.
The Centreville community has experienced the sometimes deadly forms of domestic violence in the recent past. A local teenager, Gbassay Koroma, will go on trial this spring for allegedly at their home last summer. Man Ha Park and killed her sister, in an, after they made him move out of their apartment. Most cases, though, rarely make it into the headlines.
Here's a few more takeaways from Smith's presentation:
When is assault considered domestic violence? Domestic violence involves a spouse, former spouse, parent, children, stepparents and stepchildren, brothers, sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, whether they live together or not. Also, if the perpetrator has a child in common with the victim, it is classified as a domestic assault. If the charge is for an in-law or a same-sex intimate partner, the person arrested must reside with the victim (or within six months of the assault).
What are the penalties? The first time someone is charged it is a class one misdemeanor. If convicted, the person faces a year in jail and a $2500 fine. If they have two convictions, the charge is a felony.
How does Virginia law define stalking? Essentially, if an abuser puts a victim in fear of bodily injury or death on more than one occasion, they can be charged with stalking. Stalkers are usually an ex-partner or a current partner. When stalking is combined with domestic violence, that can lead to much more serious consequences.
How do stalkers monitor people? The case of the man who was spying on his wife isn't unique. Abusers and others have found numerous ways to track people with new technology: putting a GPS on a car or downloading the GPS data from a cell phone, uploading spyware to a computer or monitoring social networking sites.
Correction: an earlier version of this article misstated Smith's job title.