10.31.16| Samantha Michaels
Yes, you read that right.
Cleopatra Harrison had large, dark bruises on her neck and scratches on her chest when she met the police at an apartment in Columbus, Georgia, 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 herself. In response, the Columbus Recorder's Court fined her $150 and threatened her with jail time if she didn't pay within a week.
This "victim assessment fee," as the judge called it, is mandated by a Columbus city ordinance that requires victims of domestic violence to help law enforcement prosecute their alleged abusers. Now 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," her attorney Sarah Geraghty said in a statement after filing the lawsuit in district court earlier this month. "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. Courts across the country do this regularly. But Geraghty says the city of Columbus and its Recorder's 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. (In Harrison's case, a friend called the police on her behalf.) And, Geraghty adds, the court has failed to consider reasons why a victim of domestic violence might not want to press charges—like fear of retaliation by the abusive partner.