According to statistics, in the United States approximately 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every 60 seconds. That means that almost 10 million women and men are physically abused every year.
Domestic violence has often been treated as though it was a private matter between partners, and many believe that a culture still persists that implies that the abuse is somehow the survivor’s fault. Domestic homicides even tend to receive lesser sentences than other homicides. This last appalling fact is the reason the nonprofit WATCH was created.
After reading an article about lenient sentencing in domestic violence and rape cases, Susan Lenfestey founded WATCH. According to Town & Country Magazine, “An advocate for victims, quoted in one of the articles, wondered why there wasn’t a Mothers Against Drunk Driving–style organization to raise the level of public awareness about domestic violence. Lenfestey decided that, despite her lack of legal training, she could start that organization.” In doing this, she created an organization that could change the way courts prosecute these crimes. WATCH also aims to raise public awareness about domestic violence and change the culture that has developed around it.
The organization monitors courts and helps to make changes to judicial policies and training. So far, according to WATCH’s website, the nonprofit has helped to “create a designated Domestic Violence Court, enact Minnesota’s felony domestic strangulation law, create consistent prosecution and sentencing for both urban and suburban courts, and opened CHIPS (Children in Need of Protection or Services) cases.”
WATCH is based in Minneapolis, MN, and, according to its website, it “monitors over 3,000 hearings annually of violence against women and children.” Volunteers observe court proceedings in order to document any problems or recurring patterns they witness. The organization then informs the public of its findings and works to improve the process.
Beyond domestic violence, the organization also has a “two-phase evaluation” project that monitors sex trafficking cases. In step one of the initiative, WATCH members monitor sex trafficking cases that involve minors to assess how the courts deal with and prosecute these types of cases. Then, WATCH analyzes the differences in the “policies, approaches, and outcomes used in handling sex trafficking cases” and provides a detailed report to the courts recommending improvements.
Since the founding of WATCH, Lenfestey says she has noticed a change in the way courts treat victims of sexual violence and abuse. She told Town & Country, “When I started going to arraignments, one judge looked out past the offender at the victim, who had a broken eye socket, and said, ‘What have you done this time?’ That would never happen today.”
Sign Up For Our Newsletter