Past domestic abuse is always relevant in cases of criminal violence, but ignored by lawyers

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18


On March 30, Noor Salman, the widow of 2016 Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, was acquitted of all charges of supposed aiding and abetting. Mateen killed himself after committing this atrocity, but  victims and families of the massacre still wanted justice. However, the defense team, according to The New York Times, successfully argued that Salman did not reasonably withhold knowledge about the crime before it occurred, and the jury found her innocent. While the defense team based their argument on whether or not Salman knew about or withheld information about her husband’s crime, there was a huge aspect of the case that was largely left out of the courtroom: Mateen’s history of domestic violence and abuse of Salman. 

According to The New Yorker, Mateen controlled, beat, raped and threatened to kill Salman and take her son throughout their marriage. Salman lived in constant fear of her husband and acted accordingly. Although Salman’s defense team argued that there was no substantial evidence to prove that Salman knew about her husband’s attack, the abuse and fear for her own life may have made her hesitant to speak out. Under immense psychological distress, it would be logical for Salman to cover her husband’s violent tracks to protect herself and her son.

Their marriage was not an isolated incident. Just days after the Pulse shooting, Sitora Yusufiy, Mateen’s ex-wife, told The New York Times that like Salman, Mateen had “beaten her severely” until she divorced him in 2009. Often, when shooters and  other violent men commit crimes, their history of violence against women comes to the surface. Acts of mass violence are often proceeded by violence in the home, and this includes the home where both Salman and Yusufiy lived with Mateen.

Still, ignoring the relevance of such violence is not uncommon in the American judicial system. In many cases involving men’s crimes, an individual’s history of domestic violence is rarely deemed relevant. For example, in the famous 1995 case of the People v. O.J. Simpson, O.J’s history of domestic violence and abuse was rarely mentioned throughout the trial. In fact, jurors of the case were not informed about Nicole Brown Simpson calling a women’s shelter several days before the murder claiming that O.J. wanted to kill her, according to the Associated Press. The prosecuting team focused on the clear evidence of the murder, and the domestic violence and fear that Nicole Simpson experienced was only an afterthought. While the People v. O.J. Simpson was about proving who did or did not murder Nicole Simpson, the case subsequently excluded the important contextual evidence, which made the murder all the more probable. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men have been affected by partner abuse. Each of these survivors, including Salman, fear or have feared for their lives because of their abusers. It is the responsibility of lawyers, jurors and judges to bring forth the victims’ stories in court, in order for both defendants and plaintiffs to receive justice.