Husband Ordered to Take Wife, a Domestic Abuse Victim, on Red Lobster Date

By Abi Robison, Student Writer for The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice

After a Florida man did not wish his wife a happy birthday, a marital spat ensued. According to an arrest affidavit, the situation escalated and Joseph Bray “pushed his wife [Sonja Bray] onto their couch and put his hand on her neck. He held up his fist to hit her, but never struck her.” As a result, Sonja Bray called the police.

After being arrested and spending a night in jail, Joseph Bray appeared in front of the court for a “first appearance hearing.” At the hearing, Circuit Court Judge John Hurley found that, due to this incident being “very, very minor,” in lieu of bond Joseph Bray was ordered to get his wife flowers and a birthday card, to take her to Red Lobster for dinner, and to take her bowling. The couple was also ordered to seek marriage counseling within a certain period of time. (Watch the video of the hearing here).

I understand that I am not privy to all of the specifics in this case. However, what is clear is that there was an altercation that resulted in Joseph Bray pushing his wife onto their couch where he proceeded to both put his hands on her neck and raise his fist as though he was going to strike her. In my mind, this is not a “minor” incident that is solved by forcing these two to be together. Regardless of the fact that this was a bond court ruling, from an outsider’s perspective it sets a horrible example of how to downplay the severity of a violence-related situation.

Domestic violence is a real problem both in the United States and abroad. According to one source (see the statistics here), in the United States, every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten, and every day over 3 women are murdered by their husbands and/or boyfriends. Globally, “at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime . . . [and] [m]ost often, the abuser is a member of her own family.” Furthermore, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women.

Real problems warrant real solutions as a means to rectify the situation, or at least as an attempt to remove victims and abusers from being put in a similar, dangerous position in the future. I firmly believe judges should have discretion when making rulings from the bench, but they must also follow the law. From a public policy perspective, this type of “slap on the wrist” ruling brushes off the situation in a way that communicates to people that this is a suitable way to treat your spouse (regardless of gender). Judge John Jay Hurley is out of line here by ordering “togetherness”, both on a policy level and legally as well, because nothing in the Florida Code gave Judge Hurley the discretion to tailor a decision with this end result. Let’s just hope that the interplay between this husband and wife doesn’t escalate into something greater than what Judge Hurley called the “very, very minor” act of shoving his wife onto a couch and putting his hands around her neck.