March 27, 2012

Judge outlines reasons for domestic violence increase

By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
In San Diego County, more than 200 restraining orders are issued weekly, often for domestic violence, according Superior Court Judge Christine Goldsmith.

A judge in the family law division for the past dozen years and wife of San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, she spoke about a rise in domestic violence cases at a Feb. 23 Continuing Education Center at Rancho Bernardo lecture.

Though domestic violence can happen at anytime and to anybody, Goldsmith said there is usually an uptick in restraining order requests during or following holidays, three-day weekends and sporting events like the Super Bowl. There has also been a correlation to the recession.

“We’re seeing more (cases) during the bad economy,” Goldsmith said. “They are not just violent but desperate, doing extreme things we did not hear of a few years ago.”

Goldsmith, who has been a judge for more than 25 years, said domestic violence reports have risen in the last couple decades because before then victims — most often women, but sometimes men — did not know where to go for help and society did not discuss the issue. Judges have also been trained to better identify and understand it.

“It was the common belief that women stayed with their abuser because it was no big deal and the man was entitled to run his home (as he saw fit),” she said. “That belief infiltrated society and the bench … (so victims had) nowhere to go.”

“Domestic violence is abuse committed by a person who has some relationship with the victim of abuse. … (It) can occur between teenagers in a young relationship and … in long-term marriages,” according to San Diego Volunteer Legal Program. Another form is elder abuse.

Though sometimes difficult to recognize, SDVLP says signs include jealousy and possessiveness, control, manipulation, mood swings, and attitude of disrespect, or history of domestic violence.

Goldsmith said some children at 8 or 10 years show tendencies toward committing domestic violence, such as fighting at school, using drugs or alcohol when they are 7 or 8 years old, and doing things like “setting a cat on fire.”

If not caught early and addressed through counseling, she said they could become homicidal or commit crimes like kidnapping or aggravated assault.

Some act out because they witness domestic violence at home. Others were exposed to drugs or alcohol while in the womb, so their brain development was affected, which influences their behavior, she said.

Though some abusers’ behavior cannot be changed, Goldsmith said through counseling others choose to modify their behavior.

“When I sit in family court I deal with domestic violence (incidents) every week, usually every day,” Goldsmith said.

Often the victim is requesting a restraining order. While there have been some well-publicized local incidents of where a restraining order did not prevent a victim’s assault or death, Goldsmith said it is important to have one so there is a record of the abuser’s history and police can arrest the abuser if the order’s conditions are violated.

She explained the process, starting with a temporary restraining order, which if there is sufficient cause becomes a permanent order lasting any length of time; often at least five years.

Goldsmith said she has also seen more restraining orders in paternity cases where non-married parents are fighting about the child.

She said family court judges in San Diego County combined typically hear 165 to 230 restraining order hearings per week. This does not include restraining order requests that come before judges for criminal or juvenile court proceedings.

“Throughout the county I can safely guaranteed more than 200 restraining order per week are issued,” she said. “Most of these are new applicants.”

About one-third are repeat applicants or those who feel a restraining order needs to be renewed, she said.

“Most applicants are women who run the gamut in age — 13 up to any age,” she said. “We now will take applications from people who are 12 or 13. Usually they are with a parent who comes in and makes the request for someone that young. At 16 or 17 they can come … to make their own application, which is heard in adult court.”

As for the 12- and 13-year-olds, she said they are typically being molested or have a boyfriend who is battering and abusing them.

“It is very sad for me to read the request from a 13-year-old who is usually dating someone 17 or 18,” Goldsmith said. “Frankly, it makes me wonder where was the mother or father … who saw no problem with dating at such an early age.”

Goldsmith said those needing a restraining order are given a packet containing all needed forms. They do not need to hire a lawyer and can receive assistance from the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program’s Domestic Violence Restraining Order Clinic.

It provides walk-in services on weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to noon, 1-4:30 p.m. at the Madge Bradley Building, 1409 Fourth Ave., 4th Floor in downtown San Diego. For details, go to or call 619-450-7588.

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