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OPINION: Telling Monserrate to curb his anger misses the mark

Sandra Oliva is executive director of the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

State Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens) avoided jail last week. Instead, he was sentenced to probation for an assault on his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo.

The sentence followed a bench trial in which the judge saw surveillance video of Monserrate dragging a bleeding and screaming Giraldo through the lobby of his apartment building, and away from a neighbor's apartment, where she apparently had gone to seek help.

The prosecution alleged that Giraldo at first told hospital staff that her wound, which required 40 stitches, was caused by Monserrate's purposely slicing her face with a broken glass after finding another man's card in her purse. But after Monserrate's arrest she changed her story, saying the injury was accidental. Monserrate was acquitted on felony assault charges, convicted only of misdemeanor reckless assault - for what was seen on the tape.

Queens Supreme Court Justice William M. Erlbaum handed down a sentence of 3 years probation, 250 hours of community service, a $1,000 fine and 52 weeks of anger-management counseling. The judge wisely left in place an order of protection, despite Giraldo and Monserrate's both now saying they want to get married. But the judge left open the possibility that the order could soon be lifted upon a showing that Monserrate has begun to address his "anger" issues.

The sentence is disappointing. The charge carried up to a year in jail, and a jail sentence would have made a powerful statement. In the words of Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, the sentence does not "adequately deter further acts of domestic violence by this defendant or others."

Particularly disturbing is the use of "anger management" - Erlbaum warned Monserrate to "curb your anger." We don't know exactly what transpired between Monserrate and Giraldo that night, but it's important to remember that domestic violence is about coercive control, not anger.

Anger management cannot cure a batterer. In contrast to someone who flies into a blind rage, the violent attacks of a batterer are often calculated, premeditated measures to control and subjugate the will of the victim. Erlbaum seemed to identify this element of subjugation, commenting that he hoped Giraldo would "have the self-respect to stop acting like a slave."

It can be frustrating and perplexing for outsiders to see that some victims of domestic violence refuse to cooperate with the police after an arrest, claiming to love and support the abuser or remaining in a toxic relationship, even when they have the resources to leave - which, unfortunately, so many do not.

But this common reaction on the part of the victim is more understandable when we realize that an abuser does enslave the victim, does rob her of self-esteem and self-respect, and does control and terrify her with an organized campaign of violence, threats, isolation, intimidation, humiliation, guilt and other mental and emotional control tactics. A physical beating is generally just one component of an abusive relationship. "Anger management" completely misses the mark.

As was not the case with Monserrate, abusers should be punished severely - even if the victim doesn't cooperate with the police - when an assault can be proven with independent corroborating evidence (like a security tape or a third-party witness). Holding them accountable for their crimes is the only way to deter them from the decision to abuse their victims.

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