If you live in Central Florida, you probably know who Baxter Troutman is—a successful citrus grower who’s serving his fourth term in the Florida House of Representatives.

But recently Troutman’s name showed up in Florida newspapers for a different reason. During a November 25 argument, Troutman threw a bedspread at his wife, Rebecca. She called the police, and Troutman spent the night in a jail cell.

Troutman described the experience as a humiliating experience that resulted from “a calamity of errors.” Police said that they could also have arrested Rebecca for pushing Baxter out of their bedroom, but they decided that he was “the primary aggressor” and arrested him.

Some Floridians are asking why that non-violent incident required a trip to jail. How many taxpayer resources are being directed towards minor domestic incidents like the Troutmans’ argument?

A recent investigative article in the Lakeland Ledger listed a number of similar stories: A man grabbed his girlfriend’s car keys and clenched his fists at her. A woman hit her mother in the jaw with a crumpled Little Debbie cake. A man dumped a Big Gulp drink over his wife’s head. All three were arrested. (Prosecutors dropped the battery charge in the Big Gulp incident, and the case against Troutman was also dropped after his wife signed a waiver of prosecution.)

The debate in Central Florida about how to handle domestic problems is part of a nationwide discussion that includes questions about renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is due to expire this month. Here is a list of some of the questions that have arisen recently:

1.  Are arrests always necessary?

Many police officers say they would prefer to have more discretion in these domestic cases. They complain that they’re pressured to make arrests because police are liable if a death or severe injury occurs later on. For example, two years ago a Central Florida woman, Virginia Varnum, was murdered by her boyfriend, Monday Demarsh. Lakeland Police Department reviews showed that no arrest had been made even though police had been called several times to settle problems between the two.

But proponents of mandatory arrest argue that it’s difficult to assess the risk in a domestic incident. Women usually call the police as a last resort because they are frightened. When police arrive, victims may be afraid to press charges against a spouse or boyfriend.

Statistics seem to support mandatory arrest policies, which force perpetrators to recognize that society is taking their actions seriously. In recent years, domestic violence calls have increased 51%—but violent acts have decreased by 63%, and domestic homicides are down 24%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some experts believe that the criminal justice system is feeling its way through a major change: As recently as the 1970s, domestic violence was not regarded as a serious crime in some jurisdictions. As time passes and alternative programs emerge, police may not have to resort to an arrest in every situation.

2.  Should Native American women be protected against intimate violence?

The obvious answer is “yes,” but the actual situation is more complex. Tribal lands have their own government, including professional judicial systems that handle crimes within their jurisdiction. Questions arise when the attacker is not a Native American. Tribal courts are forbidden to handle the problem, which is usually turned over to a federal court.

Most often those cases are simply dropped; federal courts have bigger problems to deal with. A recent study showed that 46% of Indian women say they are victims of domestic violence and stalking—but federal courts decline 46% of sexual assault cases and 67% of sexual abuse accusations.

The Senate version of the VAWA, already passed in April 2012, allows tribal courts to deal with these cases. But the House of Representatives declined to include that provision in their version of the bill. Recent observers have said that as Representatives learn more about tribal courts, they are becoming more willing to make the change in their bill. A 2007 Amnesty International report accusing the US of human rights violations in these cases is also causing judicial experts to review current practices.

3.  Should undocumented immigrants be protected against intimate violence?

Again, the answer would seem to be “yes”—but there is disagreement in Congress. The Senate version of the VAWA allows these undocumented victims temporary immigration status while their cases are adjudicated. The House of Representatives has rejected that provision, fearing that undocumented women would make false claims against husbands and boyfriends. Lately that resistance has seemed to be softening.

4.  Should police intervene in domestic violence cases involving gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered couples?

The Senate provides protection for LGTB victims in its version of the VAWA, reflecting greater tolerance of alternative lifestyles in many parts of the US. Gay marriages are legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and the Armed Forces now allow gays to serve openly. It remains to be seen whether the House bill will be changed to offer the same protection.

5.  Do men need protection against domestic violence?

Yes, they do. Exact numbers are hard to verify, since some men may be embarrassed to admit that they’ve been victimized by a woman. A 2010 CDC survey claims that 40% of domestic violence victims are men. Shelters for domestic violence report that they offend house one or more males.

To learn more:

http://www.theledger.com/article/20121207/NEWS/121209369

http://tv.msnbc.com/2012/12/15/sundays-guests-dec-16-continuing-coverage-of-the-shooting-in-newtown-the-future-of-the-violence-against-women-act-michigans-new-anti-union-law/

Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.