Tracy Hedgepath sought protection from her boyfriend at least four times before police say he killed her and two of their young children last week in North Carolina, says the Charlotte Observer. Police, prosecutors, and judges involved in the years-long ordeal say they couldn’t stop the violence because Hedgepath wouldn’t help prosecute her abuser and they didn’t have enough evidence. Her family members say they don’t believe authorities tried hard enough. Blaming the victim for not helping with prosecution allows abuse to continue and escalate, domestic violence experts say.
It’s well known that victims back off from pursuing punishment out of fear. They may hope the relationship will get better or that they can keep a husband or father for the children. “It’s something that’s a concern – the idea that victims are expected to be strong and stand up – when the very cycle of abuse beats them down and takes that away,” said Jennifer Cannon, a social worker at a battered women’s shelter. Experts say police, prosecutors, and judges should aggressively pursue domestic violence cases to ensure a conviction without testimony or other help from the victim. “We have to use creative ways of holding batterers accountable,” said Julie Owens of the N.C. Council for Women. Police should take photographs of bruises and other injuries, experts say. They should take detailed statements from victims and witnesses and even document verbal threats made by suspects while they’re held in jail.