Cleopatra Harrison had large, dark bruises on her neck and scratches on her chest when she met the police in Columbus, Ga., in June. The night before, she told them, her boyfriend had flown into a rage after finding dirty dishes in the kitchen—hurling her to the ground and choking her unconscious. Harrison, 22, agreed to show up in court to testify, but she didn’t want to press charges. In response, the Columbus Recorder’s Court fined her $150 and threatened her with jail time if she didn’t pay within a week, reports Mother Jones. This “victim assessment fee” is mandated by a Columbus ordinance that requires victims of domestic violence to help law enforcement prosecute their alleged abusers. Harrison is suing the city over the policy, which she says punishes victims and is unsupported by Georgia law. It “sounds like something out of the nineteenth century,” said her attorney Sarah Geraghty. “It’s a holdover from an era in which women were blamed for male violence.”
Georgia law allows courts to fine people who falsely and maliciously report a crime. Geraghty says Columbus and its court have gone far beyond that, by fining people like Harrison who did not lie in court and may not have even reported the crime in the first place. The lawsuit alleges that hundreds of people in Columbus, including many assault victims, have been forced to pay this fee, which can range from $50 to several times that amount. Mother Jones gives other examples of cases that have called into question policies that critics say punish women who have been victims of domestic violence, assault, or sex crimes.