Happy Domestic Violence Awareness Month! During a domestic violence trial in Maryland last week, a police officer testified that she witnessed a man hit his girlfriend in the face three times at a gas station . The officer had the man arrested. But, according to Paul Harris, the judge assigned to the case, one can't assume that a woman who was hit didn't consent to the attack. "Sadomasochists sometimes like to get beat up," Harris told the courtroom — then acquitted the man. Despite that ridiculous comment, the judge said he wasn't trying to be heartless: The abused woman had disappeared, even though she'd been ordered to testify. (Harris defended his ruling to The Baltimore Sun saying, "I have to decide the case based on what I have and I think a crucial element is missing." He told the prosecutor: "The state is stepping into the shoes of the victim when she obviously doesn't care.")
Judge Harris went onto explain that it had to be clear that the defendant's actions were not consented to by the victim, and asked, "How do you determine that without the victim?" (Byron L. Warnken, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, posed this question to a Sun reporter: "What would we do in a murder case?") While it's clear that it is a judge's job to follow the rule of law, was justice served? Could it be that the victim disappeared because she was simpply afraid for her life or was intimidated into silence by her abusive boyfriend? And while it's true that we can't rely on one cop's eyewitness report of an incident — as a commenter on the Nation's website points out, imagine a situation where the cop is white and secretly racist and the alleged attacker is black, for instance — what can we do to protect a woman in this situation? And, more importantly, punish the perp?