Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Doesn’t She Just Leave Him?

"Sharing an insider look into the intricate dynamics of the criminal justice system blended with the powerful draw of intense and realistic characters, Leotta has created more than your typical thriller. This is an author to keep your eye on."
— Suspense Magazine

“With this riveting debut legal thriller, Leotta joins the big leagues with pros like Lisa Scottoline and Linda Fairstein.”
**Library Journal starred review

JRW: Today it is our pleasure to welcome Allison Leotta whose debut novel, “Law of Attraction,” is just out. Its protagonist, Anna Curtis, does just what Allison does in real life: she's a federal attorney in DC specializing in prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence.

**Imagine Allison's photo here. You can see it by clicking here, but Blogger will not allow JRW to upload Allison's photo. Or her bookcover. Or any other photos. We'll keep trying.

Allison, your book is so compelling, and so timely (October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month). And you really tackle, head on, that tendency to “blame the victim”--usually a woman--for these crimes.

Do you think that attitude is changing?

ALLISON: America is slowly getting over the blame-the-victim attitude in rape cases. Nowadays, you don’t hear many folks saying, “She had it coming – just look what she was wearing!” People generally understand that “date rape” is rape, and a woman who goes back to a man’s apartment does not automatically consent to have sex with him. And many artificial barriers to bringing rape prosecutions are now gone.

JRW: Like what?

ALLISON: Not long ago, many states had rules barring rape prosecutions if the only witness was the victim (which prevented most prosecutions – rape isn’t a crime that happens in crowded restaurants). Only a few years ago, a man couldn’t be prosecuted for raping his own wife. It took women’s advocates years of tireless work to make this happen, but there has been a seismic shift in American attitudes toward rape.

But this shift hasn’t happened in domestic violence cases. In cases where a woman is repeatedly beaten by her husband or boyfriend, people still ask the question: “Why didn’t she just leave him?”

JRW: In “Laws of Attraction,” that’s just the question you ask, but you add some intriguing twists, and you make it personal.

ALLISON: The heroine of my book is a beautiful young prosecutor named Anna Curtis, who suffered a violent childhood herself. She takes her job personally. And she’s devastated when a domestic-violence victim lies under oath to protect her abusive lover. The lover goes free, the victim turns up dead, and Anna is heartsick and determined to bring the killer to justice. Standing in her way is her own boyfriend, a public defender representing the accused. As Anna’s personal and professional lives collide, she struggles to understand why she and so many women are attracted to men who hurt them.

JRW: What were your thoughts about that? What have you learned in your years handling cases like this?

ALLISON: I think people try to recreate the families they grew up in. Girls who see their mothers being abused are much more likely to be abused themselves. Boys who see the same thing are much more likely to grow up to be abusers. In prosecuting domestic violence, we can't just focus on the single incident involved in the case -- we have to help the victim break out of this whole violent pattern. In my office, we have counselors to help the victims with this. In "Law of Attraction," Anna struggles to figure out how to deal with her own warped romantic compass.

JRW: It must be difficult, in your lawyer-life, to see what happens behind closed doors.

ALLISON: It's definitely not a job you leave at the office. I think about my cases all the time, whatever I'm doing.

JRW: So how do you keep your equilibrium?

ALLISON: By writing, actually! It's an incredibly positive way to process all of the heartbreak, evil and tragedy I see -- and to focus on the moments of courage, love and healing that are also part of the job.

JRW: The book has some wonderful humor and lightness in it, not to mention great settings.

ALLISON: Thank you! There is some good old-fashioned fun: a wine-soaked summer romance, inter-office flirtations among Washington’s Ivy-League lawyers, and, of course, plenty of mystery and courtroom drama.

One woman told me she forgot she was on the Stairmaster because she was so engrossed in the book that she climbed 100 flights more than usual.

JRW: High praise indeed!

Allison will be here all day. Please share your thoughts on why that question can be so hard to answer: “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”


(All of the views expressed here are Allison's alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.)


Allison Leotta is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., where she specializes in prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Michigan State University. “Law of Attraction” is her first novel. Library Journal gave “Law of Attraction” a starred review and said, “With this riveting debut legal thriller, Leotta joins the big leagues with pros like Lisa Scottoline and Linda Fairstein.” Alan Dershowitz said, “I loved this novel. It is realistic, gritty, and filled with twists and turns. This is a great read for anyone who loves legal thrillers, cares about domestic violence or wonders how lawyers can live with themselves.” Allison is blogging about the TV show Law & Order: SVU – what it gets right and wrong, from her perspective as a real sex-crimes prosecutor. Check out:


  1. Will look for Allison's book, it sounds great.

    My husband and I, who together have raised three daughters, just had a conversation about date rape. His consensus was that "it was no big deal", until I pointed out how he might feel if HE was raped by someone bigger and stronger, despite his protests. Suddenly, it was a big deal.

  2. Allison, this sounds like a great concept--congratulations on the book!

    Of course I have to wonder how you possibly manage to fit all this into one life...when and how do you write?

  3. Thanks, Roberta! I actually find that writing and prosecuting are mutually beneficial. My day job give me amazing material to write about. And writing makes me better at my job -- I find that I can understand my real-life witnesses more deeply by writing from a fictional witness's point of view. My routine is to get up early and write for 2 hours every day (from 5-7 a.m.) before heading to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

  4. Hi Karen,
    I'm glad the blog provoked that kind of conversation between you and your husband, and that you were able to make him understand that anyone can be a victim. As one of three daughters myself, I appreciate a mom who is such a strong advocate for her daughters!

  5. I finally left an abusive marriage in 1977 after not-quite 3 years. There was emotional and physical abuse starting after I became pregnant. I made excuses - he was drunk, he was "sorry", etc. Why I left came down to the realization that, if I stayed, my infant daughter would grow up to repeat this 'history'... I also believed the abuse would progress to include her. With that realization also came the conviction that, if I stayed, only one of us (him or me) would survive the marriage. My

  6. Allison, I'm so torn on this issue. MANY years ago (1970's) I had an abusive boyfriend. He unloaded on me once. I was prepared to defend myself and kick him out. I did both. I was willing to prosecute but the DA decided not to pursue charges. Later, I was a bailiff in a district court. One of the murder cases my judge tried involved a woman who alleged she'd been abused for 25 years by her husband. She claimed she left, with her children, many times but he always hunted her down and dragged them back. One morning, she got up, grabbed his shotgun from the closet, and loaded it. She placed the barrel in the middle of his chest as he slept, and pulled the trigger. This was not a case where she had no support system. She had family, friends, and a church "home" all willing to help. She never filed charges, never attempted to prosecute his crimes. So, yes, why didn't she leave him? Why did she murder him? It wasn't self defense. It wasn't "heat of the moment." She got up, had coffee, then went and murdered her husband. I just can't understand that mindset. I had a long career in the court system and law enforcement. The abused woman who had no where to turn, I understand. We worked hard to get them out and help. But too many times, they returned time after time.

    One other note, my daughter was bullied in grade school. Her school had a "no confrontation" policy. We told The Only to walk away if possible, so long as only words were involved. Yes, words hurt, but the bully was the loser, not her. Then I told her that if the boy ever got physical, she was to finish the fight. He did, hitting her over the head with a thick book on the bus. She busted him in the nose with her fist. At the meeting with the school counselor and principal, I pointed out they were enabling a generation of victims by telling girls they weren't allowed to fight back. They sat in stunned silence for a few minutes and then agreed with me. Perhaps that mindset is one of the root causes of the problem.

    As a follow-up, rape is an ugly, brutal crime--one of power not sex. Abusers of every ilk should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law. This is such a volatile subject. Thank you for bringing notice to it!

  7. I have a twin sister who married an abuser. He left her after 12 years of marriage. I always wondered, do they get tired of abusing the same wife? He married the exact woman my sister had been when he met her, she abused the daylights out of him and finally left him. Poetic justice? I thought so. He is now married to his third wife and has been for over 25 years. Does he abuse that one? Who knows? My guess is yes.

    Why did my sister stay? Core beliefs. You married him, you stay with him. When my sister went for counseling, I learned a lot. She saw Mom as a strong woman who held a family together with a husband who worked long hours. I saw Mom as the doormate Dad wiped his feet on. Though I only saw him hit Mom once when I was about 20, I always knew deep down in side that she was afraid of him, so was my sister. I was, maybe leary of him, rather than afraid. I think he respected that even at a young age, I was my own person.

    Who did I marry? A man who lets me do what I want, when I want to. One who learned to respect his kids choices rather than demand them follow his and one who was willing to listen to anothers POV and possible change his thinking. We pretty much agree regarding the important things, which is why we are still married after 43 years.

    Either way my question now is not why does she stay? its why does he abuse?

    I look forward to reading your book, Allison.

  8. I am riveted by these comments. Wow. I always think substance abuse plays a part... unleashes rage.

  9. Wow, I'm so gratified that you all shared your stories. Talking about domestic violence is the first step in stopping it. This is a crime that for so long took place in secret, behind closed doors.

    Jutta, Silver, and Pam, I'm always inspired when I hear about survivors who found the courage to leave.

    Although not by the shotgun method!

    Hallie, you are absolutely right. Drugs and alcohol do fuel violence. The abusive boyfriend in "Law of Attraction" struggles with his drinking problem.

  10. Ah, ALlison, this is such an indication of how important your book is!

    Thanks so much for being here today..and for eliciting such a heartfelt discussion..

    (I'm at a writers conf so kind of out of the loop today! And so sorry, Allison, about cranky Blogger not letting us post your photo and cover! I hope everyone clicked to your website to see it. Grr.)