What was she thinking? Keys judge steamrolls over rights of domestic battery victim | Opinion
You would think that a judge — a woman, no less, presiding over a court case in the #MeToo era of heightened enlightenment about sexual abuse — would know better.
But Monroe County Judge Peary S. Fowler grotesquely failed a Key West woman accusing her ex-boyfriend of battery when the judge resorted, in an order issued before even hearing her story, to the oldest trick in the book: victim shaming.
Going way beyond what the defense attorney in the case had asked of her during pretrial proceedings, Fowler ordered Joann Scurfield to produce a list of the people she’s dated over the past decade — and a way to contact them.
If she doesn’t comply, Fowler warned, Scurfield will have to sit through another deposition.
Keys judge wants a woman’s dating history to help resolve a domestic violence case
And so, Fowler took the unusual step of re-victimizing Scurfield by doing the dirty job of helping the defense investigate a victim’s past to shame them into dropping charges.
What was she thinking?
If this case has gone this far, it’s because police and the State Attorney’s Office found Scurfield’s story credible.
In 2018, she accused ex-boyfriend Bradley Thomas McBride of attacking her by holding her down against her will and biting her neck.
The charge he’s facing is misdemeanor domestic battery.
According to the arrest warrant, when officers arrived at Scurfield’s home in Old Town Key West in the dawn hours, they found her “visibly upset and crying,” with teeth marks on the left side of her neck surrounded by a red mark the size of a person’s mouth.
The couple had been together for two years but had broken up a month earlier, when McBride showed up at the house and attacked her, Scurfield said. He only got off of her when she threatened to call police, she said.
Do you know how hard it is for women in this position to come forward and press these charges? Often, women are so scared that authorities have to work hard to convince them to push forward.
A victim’s romantic past is irrelevant.
Scurfield was right to refuse to answer questions about it during a deposition by defense attorney Hal Schuhmacher. If he wants to know if Scurfield has ever been convicted of perjury, as he told a Florida Keys News reporter, that information would be part of the public record and he can find it himself.
So what if she had other partners?
It’s not unusual for victims of domestic abuse to have been victimized by more than one person, women more so than men, according to statistics.
One in seven women and one in 18 men “have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed,” reports the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
One in three women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, NCADV reports. This includes a range of behaviors like slapping, shoving, pushing — and yes, held down and bitten, too. And one in seven women, compared to one in 25 men, have been injured by a partner.
If allowed to stand, Fowler’s ruling sets a dangerous precedent that could set back gains in women’s and victims’ rights. The judge could use a review of Florida’s Sexual Violence Benchbook.
Is Fowler’s kind of justice what victims can expect, even in a more aware society?
This is the second case to come to light in South Florida in which a key member of the justice system fails victims. In the case of a Hialeah cop accused by four women and girls of sexual abuse and harassment, the state prosecutor failed to interview three of the victims and dismissed the first as a bipolar runaway.
Appropriately so, the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office is appealing Fowler’s ruling to the 16th Judicial Circuit Court, arguing that Scurfield and victims like her have a constitutional right “to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse.”
“It is important to protect all victims of domestic abuse from further victimization during pretrial proceedings,” Assistant State Attorney Cristy Spottswood said in a statement. “We do not want to move backwards.”
Fowler didn’t just fail one victim in the Florida Keys.
She failed all the women out there in a domestic violence situation fearing for their lives.
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