For years, I hated my mother for her complicity in the violence my siblings and I grew up with. I fantasized about someone calling the police on our behalf, and prayed that someone would step in and act where my mother wouldn’t. But the extraordinary miscarriage of justice in Neha Rastogi’s case has made me realize that my mother’s mistrust of the system wasn’t unfounded. Domestic violence victims might overcome life-threatening physical, psychological, and financial obstacles to seek help, only to be revictimized by an unforgiving legal system. And when the system fails one of us, it fails us all.
For example, the Department of Homeland Security has released a public, searchable database of detained immigrants that allows abusers to track their victims, and there are draconian laws in at least 29 states that can put mothers in prison for failing to protect their children from abuse, despite clear evidence that these women were abused themselves. (This type of evidence is often used against women instead of being considered a mitigating circumstance; one Oklahoma prosecutor told the court a battered mother charged with enabling child abuse had “made the decision to stay.”) In some of these cases, battered women actually received longer sentences than the men who had abused them and their children.