Police officers in Hamilton will be carrying video cameras when they answer domesticviolence calls so that they can record victims’ statements. A Windsor officer claims thispractice has caused a leap in conviction rates for spousal assault cases. But some women’s advocates are concerned that the focus on theprosecution of batterers has escalated without consultating experts in the fieldor enough careful research.

No one could doubt the commitment of detective Maureen Rudall to fighting crimes against women. She works in Windsor’s DomesticViolence Unit. “In 1998, I wassick of seeing witnesses recant at trial and violent men walking free. So Itook my own video camera to the scene of forty cases, and saw guilty verdictssoar from 20 per cent to over 80 per cent.” Though she admits her statistics are purelyanecdotal, her bosses were so impressed that they purchased their own cameras.

“There will be women, though, who do not want the case to proceed, who will becaught in the process,” says Eileen Morrow of the Ontario Association of Intervaland Transition Houses (OAITH). Shelters have noted an increase in chargesagainst women attempting to flee abuse but who do not want to take their cases to court.

Still, detective Domenic Delibato from Hamilton’s Family Violence ResourceUnit is excited about his police force’s recent $31,000 grant from theHamilton Community and Edith Turner Foundations. “The new cameras will allowour officers to capture the victims of domestic violence on film, theirinjuries and demeanour.”

He is confident the videos will encourage judges todeny bail and accused batterers to plead guilty. Delibato is not sure what thecurrent statistic are for guilty verdicts in the 1,123 domestic violence chargeslaid last year in Hamilton, but he’s sure “it is nowhere near 80 per cent.”

Anna Willats — a former Toronto rape crisis worker who was in the field for a long time — believes thisadditional evidentiary tool may only be a means to attack the credibility ofthe victim. “Will cops still be trained to charge both parties withassault — making video of both of them so the more articulate, assertive andEnglish-speaking one seems more convincing on tape? Videos don’t show stateof mind, pulled hair, threats, shoves, or other intimidating acts,” Willatssays.

Much of the concern for experts working with abused women seems to be rootedin the fact police have instituted new policies without consulting with keystakeholders. This lack of consultation has fuelled distrust and preventedwomen from fully endorsing new police initiatives.

“Jane Doe,” (a pseudonym) successfully sued the Toronto police for failing towarn her about a serial rapist. She agrees that the lack of police cooperation withwomen’s groups has been problematic.

“The audit of the Toronto police’shandling of sexual assault cases is still not fully implemented. Perhapspolice should work on confronting their own biases towards women who areabused before they implement any new technologies,” Doe says. Doe also believesvideotaping women is intimidating and will further discourage reporting tothe police.

Morrow’s group, OAITH, does not oppose the use of videotapes “as we do supportpolice and courts using evidence that frees women from having to testify ifthey want to withdraw from the process.”. But detectives Delibato and Rudalladmit that judges will not allow uncorroborated videotapes as evidence. And womenwho refuse to testify risk criminal charges.

Willats believes male violence against women continues because of the economic and social oppression of women. Governments ignore the poor and disregard the human rights of marginalized people.And further, she adds, “The increased reliance on expensive technology letscops off the hook from challenging their own sexism and racism.”

Jane Doe agrees. “The billions of dollars spent on the investigation,prosecution, incarceration and monitoring of batterers would be much betterspent on providing women with the financial and social security necessary toescape abusive relationships. Then you could video her ass leaving for good.”