Guest commentary: Justice served in Nardi case
Guilty on all six counts. That was the verdict from the eight men and four women who comprised the jury in the trial of Peter Nardi. And with that verdict, as prosecutor Andrea Bryan said, “Justice was served.”
This case, which involved both a long-term pattern of coercive control as well as a night of horrific physical, verbal, emotional and sexual violence, embodied many of the typical elements of an abusive relationship. It also served to illustrate many of the tactics of a perpetrator,as well as the standard victim-blaming methods of the defense counsel in most domestic violence and sexual-assault cases.
So with this verdict, not only did a single brave and resilient victim find a measure of healing and redemption, but an entire community listened, learned and sent a very powerful message to past and future victims and perpetrators of abuse.
Chatting the other day with the assistant police chief of the Aspen Police Department, I was asked why I thought more women don’t report when they have been sexually assaulted and how I thought we, as a community, could encourage increased reporting. We at Response know this phenomenon to be true — all we have to do is look at the number of clients who share with us that they were sexually assaulted either in the past or present, versus the number of reports reflected in the local law enforcement statistics.
Given all of the national discourse and coverage of domestic violence and sexual assault, we shouldn’t be asking the question: “Why don’t more survivors report?” Rather, our question should be: “Why do any survivors ever report?” Sitting with the victim in the Nardi case through much of the trial, it is easy to comprehend why no individual would want to put themselves through that ordeal. Just imagine having the most intimate details of your life shared with complete strangers, having to retell your story countless times (to 911 dispatchers, law enforcement officers, hospital personnel, the sexual-assault nurse examiner nurse, investigators, prosecutors, advocates and jurors). Imagine having to re-live the trauma on the stand, being labeled the “accuser” — not only by the defense attorneys but by the local newspapers — as if you were the one who committed an act of harm toward another. And there’s the ultimate paradox of not only seeing the perpetrator take no accountability for their abuse, but actually being labeled the abuser yourself.
There is every reason to understand why an individual would choose not to put themselves through this, but thankfully there are those that do. After carefully listening to more than a week of very difficult testimony and weighing the evidence, the jurors delivered their verdict. While their sole purpose was to determine guilt or innocence in this isolated incident, I cannot help but put this ruling into its greater context for the resounding message that it sends.
At Response, our guiding principle is that we are victim-centered. What this means to us is that victims have the right of self-determination. When a crime of domestic violence or sexual assault occurs, power and control at the most basic level is completely taken away from an individual. In order for healing to occur, a victim must be able to regain decision-making in their lives. So as much as I desire to see offenders held accountable for their abusive behavior, and as much as I recognize that for some victims the process of reporting the abuse through the criminal justice system is necessary and therapeutic, this may not be true for all victims.
We all know that oftentimes the process of reporting can be revictimizing and further traumatizing for an individual and that justice is not always served. I also know that what is of greatest importance to any survivor is that they receive the support that they determine is necessary for their healing.
Nardi’s trial helped to show the community and survivors of abuse many things: that our law enforcement is properly trained, sensitive and effective in their investigation, that our sexual-assault nurse examiner is highly skilled in both evidence collection and testifying at trial, that our district attorneys will work tirelessly and adeptly to achieve justice through their dual understanding of the law and of the nature of abuse, and that our community, in the form of eight men and four women, will recognize abuse and will hold an offender accountable.
While significant, none of these are as meaningful as what a single woman showed us all: that survivors are capable of great inner strength and resilience with the ability to withstand all of the challenges inherent in reporting, and that although an abuser took away their voice in the past, they have the ability to reclaim that voice, speak the truth and be heard.
Response will be conducting a free, 30-hour training on domestic violence and sexual assault for individuals interested in becoming volunteer advocates on our 24-hr. helpline from April 28 to May 17. Please visit http://www.responsehelps.org or call our office at 970-920-5357 to download a schedule and application.
Jill Gruenberg is the Advocacy and Prevention Program Coordinator for Response: Help for Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Our confidential, 24-hour hotline number is 970-925-7233.