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The Link Between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Innovative Bexar County Criminal Courts Address Violence in the Home

Even though most cases of domestic violence are never reported, an estimated 10 million people are victims of physical abuse by an intimate partner each year. One in four women and one in nine men will be the victim of some form of physical violence from an intimate partner at some point in their life, according to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

According to Judge Crystal Chandler of Bexar County Court 13, “The belief that the home should be a person’s castle is deeply embedded in American culture. The United States Constitution explicitly gives Americans the right to be secure in their houses and free from government intrusion. Sadly, for victims of domestic violence home isn’t a castle but rather a prison.”

Bexar County was named the fourth deadliest county in Texas for women victimized by a domestic partner, by the Texas Council on Family Violence. To reverse this scary statistic, two specialized courts in Bexar County are employing leading-edge practices.

Bexar County Courts 7 and 13 are dedicated exclusively to domestic violence cases. These specialized courts address specific legal and practical issues related to violence in the home and both are on the forefront of innovative criminal sentencing practices which address the underlying causes of domestic violence.

Domestic violence takes many forms, but criminal domestic violence involves physical assault, threats of serious bodily injury, and restricting the physical movement of a victim. Domestic violence frequently accompanies animal abuse. The link between domestic and animal abuse feels intuitive, as they share many apparent similarities – crimes committed in the privacy of the home; stigma and shame for those who report; and a long history of being trivialized in American culture.

Recent studies show that the presence of one type of abuse in the home indicates the presence of the other. A person who harms animals will likely harm humans, and a person who harms humans will almost certainly harm animals. Statistically, abusers of animals are five times more likely to harm humans, and almost all domestic abusers have a history of injuring animals.

Judge Susan Skinner created an animal abuse docket in the county. Her court specializes in hearing cases of animal abuse and animal neglect. This is another example of the innovative practices employed by the Bexar County court system. Judge Chandler and Judge Wright work in conjunction with this animal abuse court to better identify and treat the complex issues present in the mind of abusive individuals.

What is at the root of this link between animal and domestic abuse? Control. It’s generally the epicenter of violence in the home. Abusers use many tactics to ensure control over their victims-isolating, minimizing, threatening, ensuring financial dependency, and other such tactics to gain power. Frequently, companion animals are caught in the crosshairs. Batterers kill, harm, or threaten companion animals to exert power and establish an environment of fear over their victims.

Animal and intimate partner abuse is not a problem concerning anger management, but rather a problem concerning maintaining control over their victims. It is an incredible challenge to penetrate and modify deeply held psychological and learned behaviors. This challenge is exacerbated by factors such as poverty, substance abuse, and mental health disorders. Genuine intervention and prevention entail immense amounts of monitoring and work, especially when there are thousands of reported misdemeanor cases EACH year.

To help foster safe families and healthy communities, comprehensive solutions and multifaceted treatment plans are at work in County Court 13. Created by Judge Chandler, YAARD, or Young Adult Aggression Re-Direction Program, is one of the most innovative and effective treatment plans in effect in County Court 13. She works to focus initiatives on different populations. The YAARD program was designed for defendants being placed on probation who are between the ages of 17 and 25 with the idea that these young people are usually just impulsive and can be helped out of the cycle of violence with proper mentorship. The program is still in its early stages, but quite a few people have completed it successfully.

Another program at work in County Court 13 called CHAT (Comprehensive Health and Alternative Treatments) focuses on defendants with mental health issues. These programs are all designed to not only rehabilitate the defendant, but to give them the tools necessary to live healthy and successful lives and become the person they were meant to be.

Victims are protected from their abusers through the court requiring defendants to take certain classes, relinquish their firearms, wear a GPS tracking device, and other such measures depending on the situation. Many defendants receive a no-contact order so that victims have the time and space needed to move on and separate themselves from the defendant, regaining personal control.

When dealing with the most under-reported crimes and the most vulnerable victims in our communities like domestic violence victims or abused animals, our Bexar County community needs to keep the judges of these specialized courts who share decades of experience in addressing violence in the home. Judge Crystal Chandler and Judge Genie Wright cumulatively have decades of experience in addressing violence in the home. According to Judge Chandler, “because domestic violence is extremely complex for several reasons-the intimate nature of the crimes, the intricate family dynamics involved, and the evidentiary and legal issues that arise in these types of cases differ from any other kind of legal case-it is essential to have judges with years of experience and a proven commitment to these cases.”

You can learn more about these judges and their individual experience at the following links: Judge Crystal Chandler of County Court 13, Judge Genie Wright of County Court 7, and Judge Susan Skinner of County Court 14.

To read more about the Bexar County Animal Abuse Docket, click here: Singing the Praises of the Bexar County Animal Abuse Docket

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