Shellie Zimmerman Won’t Press Charges Against Her Husband. Alleged Domestic Violence Victims Often Don't.

What Women Really Think
Sept. 10 2013 12:10 PM

Shellie Zimmerman Won’t Press Charges Against Her Husband. Alleged Domestic Violence Victims Often Don't.

173391407
Shellie Zimmerman stood by her husband during his trial.

Pool photo by Joe Burbank/Getty Images

The Internet lit up Monday as word spread that George Zimmerman was in trouble with the law again. Zimmerman's wife, Shellie Zimmerman, who has filed for divorce, called 911 after an altercation with Zimmerman at her parents' house. Despite Shellie Zimmerman's claim to the 911 operator that she feared for her safety from an angry George Zimmerman, who, she said, had punched her father and was threatening the family, she is not going to press charges. If you find that surprising, you shouldn't. The sad fact of the matter is that in most domestic violence cases, the alleged victim refuses to press charges and resists testifying.

Statistics on victim recantation vary from district to district, but experts agree that it's an extremely common problem, reaching as high as 90 percent of cases in places like Queens, N.Y. It's long been assumed that the major reason victims recant is out of fear, especially the fear of the abuser retaliating. But a 2011 study out of Ohio State University suggests another reason: sympathy for the abuser. Researchers found by listening to recorded phone calls between men arrested for domestic violence and their victims that the abusers generally started off by getting the victim to question her own version of the story, insisting she remembered the whole thing incorrectly or that she's making mountains out of molehills. Once softened, he then starts to lean on her sympathy and concern for him. Often, by the end, the abuser has convinced the victim that they are a single unit, a couple standing against a vicious system that's trying to take him away from her. 

Advertisement

We can't know why Shellie Zimmerman is refusing to press charges right now, but her story is an important reminder that things are very rarely simple for women struggling in toxic relationships. When Zimmerman pleaded guilty to perjury for lying about the couple's assets, her lawyer explained the situation by saying, "She didn't know what was going on. So, she stood by her man, like Tammy Wynette says." The OSU study found that abusive men used similar sentiments about family unity to persuade their victims to recant. As the lead researcher noted, abusers would often appeal to the victims by explaining "how much he misses her and their children," and this was often the breaking point where the victim would agree to recant. 

Even though the state of Florida can technically prosecute without a victim's cooperation, the lack of evidence and the unwillingness of both Zimmerman and her father to press charges makes doing so nearly impossible. As the local police chief told the Orlando Sentinel, "We have no victim, no crime."

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.