Should an Abused Wife Be Charged in Her Husband’s Crime?

Testimony is expected to begin this week in the federal prosecution of Noor Salman, whose husband, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. Ms. Salman is charged with aiding and abetting her husband, who was killed in a shootout with the police, in “providing material support” to the Islamic State, and obstruction of justice. With so few facts available, it would be irresponsible to speculate about Ms. Salman’s possible role in this horrific event.

But here’s what we do know: Before Mr. Mateen decided to commit mass murder, he repeatedly abused Ms. Salman physically and emotionally. Ms. Salman has said her husband punched her, choked her, threatened to kill her, coerced her into sex and left her isolated in their home. Her lawyers say she lived in constant fear of him.

It’s unlikely that Ms. Salman will be the last domestic violence victim subject to prosecution in relation to large-scale violence committed by her abusive partner. That’s because of a confluence of factors: first, the strong link between domestic violence and mass shootings; and second, the frequency with which perpetrators exercise coercive control over their intimate partners, forcing them to act in ways they otherwise might not have done.

Because the link is so common, and the control so pervasive, we need to think seriously about what kind of legal responsibility we are prepared to assign victims under these circumstances.

The connection between partner abuse and mass shootings has become almost commonplace. Among the many examples: Devin Patrick Kelley, who murdered 26 congregants at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in November, had been court-martialed by the Air Force for domestic violence; James Hodgkinson, who fired on members of Congress as they played baseball last June, had a court record of abuse against his foster daughter; Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who killed 84 people with a truck in Nice, France, in July 2016, was known to the authorities because he had assaulted his wife

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