By Sara Squeglia
“Let’s get food at the Red Lobster, my treat” (Happy Gilmore)
. Sounds like the opening sentence to every girl’s dream night, right? At least that’s what Florida Judge John Hurley thought when he ruled that 39 year-old Sonja Bray go on a date with her husband
, after he shoved her onto a sofa and brutally strangled her in their home earlier this week.
Judge Hurley claimed he usually would not handle a case of domestic violence so lightly, but he believed John Bray’s violent abuse towards his wife was “very, very minor” (source: FL newspaper, Sun Sentinel).\
I’m not sure what seafood Judge Hurley was eating, but strangulation by one’s husband does not sound very minor to me. Especially since victims of strangulation are nine times more likely to be murdered
by their partner after the incident occurred.
In the courtroom, Judge Hurley questioned Sonja while her husband was present. He asked, point blank, if she had been hurt or was in fear of her husband. Although Sonja claimed she was not, the arrest affidavit tells a slightly different story. Clearly, Sonja was frightened enough to even call the police in the first place. Not to mention the detailed report she gave of the violent actions he had taken towards her. Regardless of these two blatant pieces of evidence, Judge Hurley decided a romantic dinner date, followed by a few games of bowling would cure all the couple’s problems.
Watch the video of the questioning and ruling here
Most of us hear of this ruling and ask, what happened? All the evidence was there, why didn’t Sonja’s story sway this judge? The problem lies here: Judge Hurley never stopped to consider the impact on Sonja’s responses if her abuser was present during her testimony. It is no secret that the majority of domestic violence victims denies or remains silent about their abuse out of fear
for their own life and safety. However, this MAJOR detail never seemed to cross Judge Hurley’s mind. He simply skimmed over Bray’s case, confirmed he had no prior arrests and concluded that he couldn’t possibly be violent in his home if he was not deviant or violent in public.
Judge Hurley was confident that if Sonja was treated to the date from her dreams, (she had been questioned about her favorite restaurant and date-night activities beforehand), all previous issues would quickly dissolve. He ended the ruling by suggesting Bray really go the extra mile this time and pick up some flowers and a birthday card for his wife. Bray had assaulted his wife on her birthday.
Where, as advocates, do we go from here? We see this case and most of us shake our heads at the absurdity of it. But while we do that, Sonja Bray is most likely sitting at a Red Lobster across the table from her abusive husband, feeling hopeless that even the court system has let her down. And every other victim who reads of this case might start to think twice about contacting authorities for fear of being laughed at in the courtroom. Domestic violence will never end if our legislative allies continue to treat these issues with disrespect. This is a call to action: domestic violence is not a joke. All branches of society must come together and address these very tangible issues if we want to foster a society where every woman is safe from abuse.