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Judge Jails Domestic Violence Victim For Failing To Testify

"You think you're going to have anxiety now? You haven't even seen anxiety," Judge Jerri Collins said.

A Florida judge is under fire from domestic violence advocates after a video shows her berating a victim and sentencing her to three days in jail for failing to testify against her attacker.

Video released Tuesday to WFTV shows Seminole County Judge Jerri Collins holding the victim in contempt of court for failing to appear at her case on July 22. The Huffington Post is withholding the woman's name because we do not identify victims of domestic violence. 

Court documents allege that the victim ignored a subpoena to testify against the father of her child, who allegedly choked her and threatened her with a knife. A day before the assault trial, the victim told a court advocate, "I am not going in tomorrow, I don't care if I get arrested!"

Video shows the distraught, tearful victim at her contempt hearing on July 30, telling Collins that she was riddled with anxiety after her attack, and was living with her parents and her 1-year-old child. Collins told her that's no excuse for failing to show up to court, which could blow the case for the prosecution. (It didn't -- State Attorney Phil Archer said in a press release that the abuser was sentenced to 16 days in jail "despite the victim's lack of cooperation.")

Collins, on the video, appears to become agitated as the victim pleads for her freedom.

"You think you're going to have anxiety now?  You haven't even seen anxiety," Collins says before sentencing the sobbing victim to jail.

The victim cries harder and pleads for another chance, but Collins says her fate is sealed.

Advocates said the judge's decision sends a message that victims of domestic violence have no legal recourse.

"She's never going to call 911 again," said Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "I understand how frustrating it is for prosecutors without certain evidence and testimony, but the solution is never to threaten or bully the victim. She's scared to testify. And that judge sealed the deal -- she's never calling 911 again."

Southworth added, "And if she dies, it's on that judge's watch."

Southworth said judges will sometimes threaten to charge victims with contempt to try and get them to testify against defendants. But rarely has she seen a victim thrown in jail on the spot.

Kim Gandy, president and CEO of National Network to End Domestic Violence, said it's the prosecution's job to gather more evidence to convict an abuser, not the victim's.

"We condemn this judge’s decision, which places a woman in jail for trying to save her own life," Gandy said. "The system -- not the survivor -- needs to hold perpetrators accountable. Evidence-based prosecution is a viable option when survivors choose not to be a witness due to the trauma they’ve already suffered."

Collins refused to comment on the case. Her spokeswoman said she wouldn't answer questions about any case still open to appeal. The spokeswoman confirmed that the office is getting a lot of feedback from the public since the video was released Tuesday.

Sadly, the justice system fails domestic violence victims all too often. Kate Ranta, a survivor who says she's been waiting nearly three years for her attacker's criminal trial to begin, started a nonprofit called Women Against the Violence Epidemic to advocate for additional domestic violence training for judges, police officers and lawyers.

"I was breathless at the end of this video," Ranta told The Huffington Post. "[The judge] re-traumatized the victim. She underscores the reason why victims often don’t leave their abusers, or don’t try to seek help because it’s well known that the family courts are broken ... This is someone who’s been through trauma, she didn’t want to face her abuser in court. I’ve been there."

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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