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Does mediation work for domestic violence?

Many types of disputes, such as child custody and property division, may be resolved through Pennsylvania mediation. Domestic violence, however, is not susceptible to this type of resolution.

Mediation is a confidential out-of-court process before a neutral mediator that encourages disputing parties to cooperate, reconcile and seek agreements to resolve conflicts. Parties often meet individually in private with the mediator.

Domestic violence constitutes abuse by one partner against another, which is often comprised of physical violence and usually includes some form of emotional abuse. Other actions include economic coercion, sexual abuse, isolation, threats and intimidation, damaging property, harming pets and other types of terrorism. This violence is a pattern of abuse that is not comprised of one or a small number of incidents.

But, domestic abuse is not caused by misunderstandings or lack of communication. Perpetrators of abuse are not prone to cooperate, and there is an imbalance of power between the victim and the abuser. Victims may be justifiably hesitant to provide candid information before a tormentor or even to the mediator in private. Candid discussion of issues can even aggravate the situation.

Victims cannot be held responsible for abusive and often criminal behavior. There is no justification for an abuser to engage in abuse, even if the victim does not comply with a mediation agreement. It is unreasonable to expect that any change made by the victim will have a lasting impact on the perpetrator's behavior.

Violence cannot be mediated. A victim's rights are protected in an adversarial and public court proceeding where abusers are held legally responsible and sanctioned. Courts and government agencies are held accountable for the protection of victims.

On the other hand, mediation is private with no assurance of accountability. There is little follow-up or assurance that the victim's rights are protected.

As one can see, the legal system can be complicated, especially when it comes to domestic violence. An attorney can assist domestic violence victims seek legal protection, such as a restraining order. They lawyer can also provide advice on the options that are available to victims and their families.

Source: NCADV.org, "Mediation and domestic violence," accessed on Dec. 21, 2016

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